SE: The Early Years of Bruce Weber

Head coach Bruce Weber continues his conversation with Sports Extra's Mark Janssen.

April 8, 2012

This feature story appeared in Sunday's edition of K-State Sports Extra

By Mark Janssen

“Sports Extra” sat down with newly-named K-State men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber this week to learn about his background.

SE: Coach, what did your parents do in Milwaukee?

BW: My dad actually came here on a boat from Austria when he was a little boy.  My wife and I took our basketball team to Italy last summer and we took a couple extra days and went to his hometown, which was a ‘Bucket List’ thing for me. There were Webers everywhere, which was sort of neat.  He probably didn’t have the education that he needed because my grandparents didn’t understand the culture, but he was very involved in athletics and running summer programs for kids.  There were five of us kids, and the one thing that he said about each of us was that we were going to get a college education.  He was very tough, very disciplined … I don’t want to say mean, but he was tough.  He also told us that each of us would be a teacher and a coach, and there wasn’t going to be a choice, and every one of us did that.  Both of my parents believed that the most important thing you could do with your life is to help others, and what better way to do that than be a teacher and a coach.

SE: Back to your days in Milwaukee, you played a lot of baseball.  Were you a big Milwaukee Braves fan?
BW: Oh yes.  I remember going to opening day their last year before they moved to Atlanta and we threw snowballs at them because they were leaving Milwaukee. That was Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn and they were leaving us.  I also went to a lot of (Milwaukee) Bucks’ games.  It’s hard to believe, but they would have $1 night.  I would guess I went to 30 of their games one year.  I was a basketball junkie.  Al McGuire used to practice his Marquette teams on Friday and Saturday nights, so he could keep track of his players and keep them out of trouble.  Those practices would be open, so I would go every chance I got when I was in high school.

SE: You went to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee to play baseball, right?
BW: That’s right, but as soon as I got there they dropped the program because they were in the process of going Division I in basketball and they had to drop some of their sports.  I tried to be a walk-on to the basketball program, but it didn’t work.  The last few years in college I knew I wanted to coach, so I assisted at Marquette University High School, which was a school that won a bunch of state titles, plus I would work seven or eight camps during the summer.

SE: So a sports junkie your entire life?
BW: Yes.  I would go to the playground at 9 in the morning until it was time to go to lunch, and then go back and play until it got dark whether it was baseball, football and basketball.  (Laughing) with my brothers, I think at one point there was a Weber catching for our high school baseball team seven years in a row.  I’m sure people looked at the boxscore after a while and wondered if that Weber kid was ever going to graduate or just keep flunking.  My dad always said to play catcher because no one else would want to.  You’d always have a chance to play, so all the Weber boys were catchers.

SE: How did you get into coaching?
BW: My brothers were involved in high school coaching, and I had worked camps and run summer leagues.  Then I just had a whim to be a college coach.  I applied everywhere in the country to be a college graduate assistant, but it wasn’t that easy.  I told the story at the press conference how I drove nine hours to Western Kentucky to talk to coach (Gene) Keady, but there was a misunderstanding and he had taken off to some USA Basketball thing, so I had just driven the longest drive in my life only to turn around and go back nine hours.  I got a hold of coach Keady and he said to come back down, but I didn’t have the money or the time because I was heading up to a camp. We talked and he said he would hire me anyway.

The really sad part of the story is that the day I finally got down there to take the job was the day my sister got killed in a car accident, so I had to turn right around and leave again without meeting him. Because of all the stress I broke out in hives, so when I get back down there to meet Coach Keady for the first time my face is all broken out and he had to think, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’  But, I stayed with him for 19 years.

SE: First at Western Kentucky, and then 18 years with coach Keady at Purdue.
BW: I went to Purdue as the third guy and, at 23, I was the youngest assistant coach in the Big Ten for a number of years.  I was the third guy on the staff for two years and then he (Keady) fired the other two guys so, at 25 or 26, I was now the top assistant.  I think I was so naïve that I didn’t realize what it was about.  That was 1984 and we won the league after being picked 10th in the preseason poll, and then we won back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1987 and 1988, but I was still in my 20s and people weren’t hiring coaches that young at that time.  People said it was time to leave, but we were winning, we won championships, my wife was happy, I’m happy, so why should I leave.  But then we get a new AD and a new President and they flat told me I wouldn’t be promoted if coach Keady left.  They wanted me to go out and prove myself.

SE: And Southern Illinois provided that opportunity?
BW: Probably like here, I was the underdog to get the job and not the most popular choice.  They said we would win five games the first year and I think we won 15, and then we went to the NIT and we started winning some games.  The reason I got the Illinois job after that is we were in Las Vegas playing Bill Self’s Illinois team and we led them a lot of the game.  Ron Guenther was the Illinois AD, and he supposedly said, ‘I don’t want Self to leave, but if he does I know who my next coach will be.’  The next year Bill leaves and Ron gives me a call.

SE: A better X and O guy, or a better recruiter?
BW: I think I’ve been known as a pretty good X and O guy.  But at the same time we’ve had several Top 15 recruiting classes.  I know we work at it and found players that others didn’t.  At Southern Illinois, my point guard only had another offer from Truman State.  Whenever he had an attitude issue I’d just say, ‘You know, Truman State is 3-22 and you’re on a Missouri Valley championship team.’  Even at Purdue, I had to find kids who would play for coach Keady.  Everyone knows that Glenn Robinson can play, but you also have to find those kids who can develop in your program.  They may not have this, or that, but if they have toughness and desire, you can win games and you have something to work with.  I think that’s what they’ve done here (K-State).

K-State fans sold out Bramlage Coliseum for the second consecutive year in 2011-12, becoming one of just 14 schools to draw over 12,000 in paid attendance for every regular season home game over the last two seasons (Kentucky, Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan State, New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Creighton). Fans interested in joining the season ticket wait-list may call the K-State Ticket Office at 800.221.CATS, or visit www.kstatesports.com. Ticket availability will be determined after the season ticket renewal period in June.