Fathers know best - or do they? 3 new MWC coaches follow in dads' footsteps - Albuquerque Journal

Fathers know best — or do they? 3 new MWC coaches follow in dads’ footsteps

Kevin Kruger, left, played for his father Lon (right) at UNLV, as shown in this 2007 photo. The younger Kruger is now also a head coach, taking over at his alma mater. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

If you haven’t heard, new Lobo men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino has a dad who also dabbles in college basketball coaching.

The younger Pitino has been peppered throughout his nine-year coaching career about following the footsteps of his Hall of Fame father Rick, including since he was hired last March at UNM.

But he’s not alone in the Mountain West Conference.

Coincidently, three of the league’s four new coaches this season also have fathers well known for being college coaches: Pitino, whose father Rick is coaching this season at Iona; UNLV’s Kevin Kruger, whose dad Lon has 674 college wins, including seven season coaching at UNLV from 2004-2011; and Utah State coach Ryan Odom, whose father Dave was both an SEC and ACC coach of the year over a 22-year career at three schools before retiring in 2008.

“I consider myself blessed to be a coach’s son and be raised in a basketball family,” said Odom on Thursday in the second of a two-day virtual media event for the league. “I know those guys do as well.”

Kruger, who played for his dad at UNLV in 2007 and, like Pitino, was on his dad’s coaching staff earlier in his coaching career, said he realizes fans in Las Vegas may have certain expectations just based on the name.

“I think anybody that knows us would say we have a lot of similarities, but we’re also two very different people,” Kruger said. “… (But) if I end up being a lot like him, I think that’s pretty good for me personally, and pretty good for UNLV here, so I wouldn’t mind that one bit.”

Lon Kruger, who retired from Oklahoma this past offseason, is around plenty, but serving as a grandpa mostly and basketball adviser rarely, Kevin Kruger said.

Odom said his dad turned 79 earlier this month while on a visit to Logan, Utah. Unlike Kruger and Pitino, Odom never worked with his dad.

“Growing up in a basketball family can be very stressful, but it also is really rewarding,” Odom said. “Basketball has taken all of us to a lot of different places – a lot of different countries, we’ve met so many people because of the game that we’re fortunate enough to be a part of. And we have our fathers to thank for that.”

AGED RICE: Mountain West studio host Jesse Kurtz referred to Boise State coach Leon Rice, easily the longest tenured head coach in the league, as the conference’s “elder statesman” and introduced him to media saying he was in his 11th season.

Rice, 57, jokingly, noted he didn’t care for the “elder” part and said he was pretty sure he had coached the Broncos for 12 years.

Boise State play-by-play announcer Bob Behler later verified Rice had coached at Boise State for 12 years, and the 11 was a reference to years in the MWC (Boise State was in the WAC for Rice’s first season).

“That makes me feel better, Bob,” Rice said. “I thought I was losing a little bit. I thought Jesse was right saying I was the ‘elder’ statesman.” Behler replied, “You’re just a statesman in my book.”

JUST A NUMBER: For the record, SDSU’s Brian Dutcher is the league’s oldest coach at 61. Rice is second at 57 with former UNM coach Steve Alford and Air Force coach Joe Scott both on his heels at 56.

At the other end of the spectrum are two coaches in their 30s: UNLV’s Kruger (38, who has never coached a game) and UNM’s Pitino (39, who will coach his 300th game as a Division I head coach in November).

MESSAGE RECEIVED: At a practice earlier this month when he felt his Rebels maybe weren’t quite getting the message about the importance of defensive switches, Kruger took over the music selection that plays during warmups, and he even had it play for awhile in practice.

“I think at one point we went 48 straight minutes of the same song over and over to reinforce it,” Kruger said, referring to the day the Rebels listened to the 2005 Will Smith song “Switch” for nearly an hour.

“I guess we were being a little petty, maybe. A little annoying,” he joked.

Without hesitation, Rebel players Bryce Hamilton and Royce Hamm Jr. later in the day when asked what song they never want to hear at practice again: “Switch!”

MILES THE SHOWMAN: In Day 1 of the two-day media days event, first-year San Jose State coach Tim Miles spoke a mile a minute with his customary high-energy approach while sitting at a table with a basketball to his left and a large, metal Spartans helmet to his right.

The former Colorado State coach who was most recently spent seven years coaching at Nebraska and was also a finalist at UNM when Pitino was hired, has used the helmet and Spartans imagery as a way to try and brand his program — the one that has easily been the least successful in the league since joining for the 2013-14 season.

“Spartans run to the fight,” Miles says of his program.

Wednesday, he added “We want to be a team that’s gritty, that’s tough, that’s tough minded. … I think that we have to break the cycle. San Jose State basketball has not been a huge player for a long time on the college basketball scene, so anytime you have this malaise, so to speak, you have fight your way out of it.”


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