When Kansas State Wildcats president Kirk Schulz and athletic director John Currie introduced Bruce Weber as the school’s new head coach, a shockwave of disappointment fell over the Wildcat nation. Many questioned the hire for reasons stemming back to his dismissal at Illinois just a month ago.
Many wanted to see Currie take a risk and sign ESPN personality Doug Gottlieb or maybe even former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. But, bad hire? Far from it. Schulz and Currie did a fabulous job in tracking down a high-profile coach to succeed Frank Martin. Count me among the believers that Weber will have success at Kansas State.
Weber has been coaching for 33 years and spent 14 years as a head coach accumulating a 313-155 record. Weber won National Coach of the Year and AP Coach of the Year in 2005. He was also Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2005 and Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2003. He was one of the most successful coaches in Southern Illinois history and led them to their first Sweet 16 berth since 1977. At Illinois, Weber led Illinois to 37 wins during the ’04-05 season, which ties for the most in NCAA history and also a National Championship berth.
At the beginning of the process, many considered Weber a long shot. However, because of his impressive resume, it’s easy to see why he was the most likeliest candidate for the job. His resume, defensive and recruiting background fits the mold for what was needed to keep Kansas State competitive in a tough Big 12 Conference and continue the winning tradition at Kansas State.
Coach Weber is coming off a 17-15 (6-12) season where his team missed postseason play for only the second time in his nine-year coaching stint at Illinois. He did, however, digress after making a splash during the first three years, and just didn’t win enough games to stay at the helm at Illinois.
That is what many Kansas State people are worried about. However, I don’t think it’s was as big of an issue as many thought it was.
“We had a young team. Six freshmen and one returning starter,” Weber said during his introductory press conference on what went wrong at Illinois last season. “We had eight straight games decided by four or less points. We won them early and did not win them late. The disappointment of a lot of close losses takes its toll. It happens, we went through some growing pains, but ironically I was told that if we had won two games in the Big Ten Tournament, we would have been in the NCAA Tournament. Our RPI was high, we had eight or nine top-100 wins. Ohio State is playing today [in the national semifinals] and we beat them. It did not all go wrong, but there were some pretty positive things there. I felt like we had a great foundation on young players and I felt we could have had a pretty good team in the future.”
Coach Weber, last season, did finish ninth in the Big Ten and didn’t make the postseason. He did, however, have hope coming his way very soon to add to what he was expecting to return.
One thing that hurt Weber during his tenure early on was his lack of recruiting success. However, in the past three years, Weber has pulled in a McDonald’s All-American in Jereme Richmond, four-star athletes Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard. He had two four-star guards in 2013, in Malcolm Hill and Jalen James, while bringing in two guards for the 2012 recruiting class led by pure-point guard Michael Orris.
Not to mention, the consensus No. 1 player regardless of class, Jabari Parker, seemed very interested in Illinois because of their head man Weber. He also had his foot in the door with many high-profile kids that were seriously considering his program.
In addition, Weber has an identity of a great defensive coach. This past season, the Wildcats used their ability to play stifling defense to their advantage. The Wildcats were good at it and also held national championship-bound Kansas to under 60 points.
Can a coach like Weber come in and continue such a trait? I believe he can. The best defensive year under coach Martin the past five years came this season, where Kansas State held teams to 64 points per game, 40 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three. However, in the past five years under Weber, his best year defensively came in 2008-09, where he held teams to 57 points per game, 39 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three.
This season, Weber’s team still managed to hold teams to just 64 points scoring, 42 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three. Under Weber in the last five years, his teams have yet to give up more than an average of 66.8 a game to an opposing team, whereas coach Martin gave up as high as 69.8 points a game.
Offensively, coach Weber used a non-traditional motion that utilizes fast guards at Illinois. He wasn’t very clear of exactly what offense he would use at Kansas State, though.
“My coaching tree, of course, goes back to (Gene) Keady and beyond that to Eddie Sutton. That is based on solid defense and great fundamentals,” coach Weber said. “The same things that Tex (Winter) and Cotton (Fitzsimmons) did and all of the coaches through the years. That is why you have success. Now I hope that if you play good defense, you can push the basketball, and run and get the easy basket. So I would tell you, that it is going to be a style and philosophy of solid fundamentals.”
So far, no transfer news has come out and that looks positive for Kansas State. Keeping the current team intact will be big for Weber, if he hasn’t already. Brad Underwood could possibly be returning as an assistant to Weber and the team is going in the right direction. Getting back into the picture for Robert Upshaw may not be out of sight, either. With the current team, Kansas State can do big things next season under Bruce Weber.