UPDATE: Lon Kruger has released a statement denying any occurrence of an interview.
ORIGINAL: According to a report from Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lon Kruger recently interviewed for the same position at UCLA. The Bruins have also reportedly interviewed current Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes, who is considered the frontrunner for the job.
Latest I've heard is that Rick Barnes and Lon Kruger have been interviewed for the UCLA job, with Barnes considered the frontrunner. He's 64, two years younger than Kruger, and is coming off a national-coach-of-the-season at Tennessee.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) April 8, 2019
UCLA’s coaching search has been going on for nearly 100 days, and the effort has experienced its share of embarrassing setbacks along the way, with the most recent involving Jamie Dixon’s candidacy. The position is one of the most prestigious in the sport and certainly has distinct recruiting advantages, but the athletic department leadership’s well-documented incompetence and general lack of commitment to winning (and spending) has put plenty of people off. Having said that, it’s something that would be difficult for Kruger to turn down — even at his age.
For what it’s worth, it seems as though Barnes will end up being their guy, as it’s reported that he will likely accept the gig if offered.
I have been told that Rick Barnes would definitely accept the UCLA job if formally offered it.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) April 8, 2019
Kruger, who is 66, has spent a total of 33 seasons as a college head coach, with his longest stint being his current one at Oklahoma. Things have been rocky for the program since the 2016 Final Four run, but one can’t overstate how much appreciation people should have for his role in resurrecting OU basketball following the Jeff Capel era. Yes, he and his staff dropped the ball with the most recent wave of players — that much is undeniable. However, next season represents a fresh start, as the team will look much different with the addition of a highly-touted six-person recruiting class as well talented Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves. Considering what we’ve seen in recent years, the optimism for the future should be cautious in nature, but optimism should exist all the same.
If Kruger were to accept another position, we’d potentially see a mass signee exodus — perhaps similar to the one we saw when Kelvin Sampson left for Indiana. Young, talented guys would justifiably be granted releases and would be eligible right off the bat at other schools (as was the case with Scottie Reynolds and Damion James in the aforementioned example). I know there are many who would like to see him step aside or be pushed out (I’m not one of them), but the timing wouldn’t exactly be ideal in this instance. I’m hoping this blows over (it seems likely) and we see Kruger get his chance to coach these new guys before he rides off into the sunset.