Jim Wooldridge's approach to coaching has always centered on improvement. It's a philosophy that served him well in his three previous head-coaching assignments prior to arriving in Manhattan and it's now beginning to pay big dividends at Kansas State.
In just two years at the helm, Wooldridge, who owns a career record of 253-181 (.583) in 15 seasons as a head coach, has lifted K-State from the cellar of the Big 12 Conference to the cusp of an upper-division finish in what many believe is the nation's toughest league.
The 2001-02 season saw the Wildcats equal their conference win total for the two previous years combined en route to a seventh-place finish that was Kansas State's best of the Big 12 era. Included among K-State's victims were No. 9 Oklahoma State - the Wildcats' first win over a Top 10 team since 1994 - and Sweet 16 participant Texas.
Big strides in a short period of time. But then again, returning a once storied program to national prominence is why he was brought to K-State. Turning around basketball programs is nothing new for Jim Wooldridge.
Now in his fourth collegiate coaching assignment, Wooldridge, who is 24-34 (.414) with the 'Cats, has been successful in each of his three prior stops and is well on his way to returning Kansas State basketball to the upper echelon of the Big 12 Conference.
Hired as the 20th head coach in the history of Kansas State basketball on March 13, 2000, Wooldridge has led a resurgence in Wildcat basketball that has resulted in a two-game improvement in each of his first two seasons, a leap of five places in the Big 12 standings and the signing of back-to-back top 25-ranked recruiting classes.
After leading the 'Cats to an 11-18 record in his inaugural season in Manhattan, Wooldridge avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by guiding K-State to a 13-16 mark in 2001-02 that included a sparkling 6-2 ledger in Big 12 home games.
But the improved record Wooldridge has ushered in over the past two seasons does not tell the whole story. While most coaches faced with rebuilding a program struggle just to get their teams to be competitive out of the gate, Wooldridge's squads are already making a habit of knocking off elite competition, including clawing their way to wins over Top 25 clubs (Iowa and Missouri in 2000-01, Oklahoma State in 2001-02) as well as NCAA Tournament-bound opposition (Iowa, Missouri, Hampton, Oklahoma State, Texas).
And had it not been for a number of hard-luck losses, the Wildcats' record would be even better. K-State has suffered eight of its Big 12 losses under Wooldridge by seven points or less.
The 'Cats have also proven to be dangerous in the postseason since Wooldridge took the reins and are undefeated in Big 12 Conference openers.
This late-season success has been a trend of Wooldridge's K-State teams. During 2000-01, the Wildcats won two of their final three games, including a thrilling 62-58 win over Nebraska in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament.
Last season, things were even more exciting for the Kansas State faithful down the stretch as the 'Cats captured four of their final seven and nearly reached the Big 12 semifinals, giving Final Four participant Oklahoma all it wanted in the second round of the conference tournament.
The energetic Wooldridge came to Kansas State from the NBA's Chicago Bulls, where he served two seasons as an assistant coach under Tim Floyd, the former Iowa State mentor and his college teammate. As Floyd's assistant, Wooldridge was instrumental in the development of some of the top young NBA players, including 1999-2000 Co-Rookie of the Year Elton Brand and Ron Artest, who earned All-Rookie team honors in 1999-2000.
The first assistant coach hired following Floyd's announcement as Bulls head coach in 1998, Wooldridge was considered the staff authority on the triangle offense after teaching it as a head coach at Louisiana Tech and throughout his career. Much of his knowledge of the triangle offense, which was the offense run by the Chicago Bulls during their championship run in the 1990s, stems from his relationship with Tex Winter. The winningest coach (by percentage) in K-State basketball history, Winter has served as assistant coach on nine NBA Championships teams (six with Chicago; three with Los Angeles) and assisted under Floyd for one season with the Bulls (1998-99).
The Winter-Wooldridge connection goes back several years. Wooldridge was an assistant to Lynn Nance at Central Missouri State (1982-85) while Nance was a former assistant under Winter at Washington. Nance is also a disciple of the triangle offense.
Prior to his two-year NBA stint, Wooldridge made his mark serving as a collegiate coach for 21 seasons, including the last 13 as a head coach. All his teams have been characterized by teamwork, hard-nosed defense and rebounding - traits he has continued to instill at K-State.
Wooldridge spent four seasons (1994-98) at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech, before his tenure with the Bulls. Taking over a program that had won just nine games the previous two years combined, Wooldridge guided the Bulldogs to a pair of winning seasons in his first three years, including a 14-13 record his first campaign.
That first year was a remarkable improvement considering Louisiana Tech was coming off NCAA probation and a 2-25 record the previous season (1993-94). Even more impressive was the fact that the Bulldogs posted a .500 conference slate (9-9) in Wooldridge's inaugural season, after going winless in the Sun Belt Conference the year before (0-18).
That Bulldogs squad benefited from the team concept instituted by Wooldridge as four players averaged double-figure scoring, but none greater than the 15.8 points per game posted by all-Sun Belt performer Doug Annison. Annison, who also led the Bulldogs in rebounding that season, became Louisiana Tech's first all-league performer in four years.
Wooldridge nearly led the Bulldogs to their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance two years later. In 1997-98, the still-rebuilding Bulldogs posted a 10-8 conference mark en route to a 15-14 overall record, the most wins by a La. Tech squad since the 1991-92 season. Wooldridge's team, led by all-conference guard Lonnie Cooper and Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, Derek Smith, advanced to the finals of the conference tournament where it dropped a one-point heartbreaker to South Alabama, which went on to represent the league in the NCAA Tournament that season.
Wooldridge's steady climb through the collegiate coaching ranks began as a graduate assistant at Louisiana Tech. Following his playing days, which saw him play on a Southland Conference Championship team (1975-76) and earn the team's top defensive player award twice, the 1977 La. Tech graduate spent one more season on the Bulldog bench.
His work as a graduate assistant at the Ruston, La., school earned Wooldridge his first full-time coaching post at East Central University (Ada, Okla.) in 1978. As an assistant coach at the Division II school for four years, he helped the Tigers capture three Oklahoma Intercollegiate Conference championships.
Wooldridge then began a successful nine-year association with Central Missouri, including serving the final six seasons as the Fighting Mules' head coach. Before ascending to head coach, Wooldridge served as Nance's top assistant for three seasons. Along with his duties on the bench, he also had the primary staff responsibility for recruiting. During those three seasons, the Mules compiled a 74-17 (.813) record and won the 1984 NCAA Division II national championship. They also won the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association title that season and were co-champions the following year.
Named head coach of CMSU in April of 1985, Wooldridge kept the Mules competing at a high level throughout his six-year tenure as head coach. In his first three years at the helm, Central Missouri finished among the top three in the MIAA regular-season standings, including a 20-8 campaign in 1986-87, and advanced to the league playoffs in each of those years.
That was only the beginning of a superb run, which saw the Mules reach the NCAA Tournament and post 22 or more victories for three straight seasons.
Following a 22-9 season, Wooldridge's CMSU squad posted a 27-6 mark in 1989-90, the second-most wins in school history. Only the 29-3 national championship team of 1984 won more games. After finishing second in the league tourney in 1990, the Mules advanced to the NCAA West Regional Final, where they lost by four points to eventual national runner-up Cal State Bakersfield.
In 1990-91, Central Missouri continued its postseason success by again advancing to the finals of the NCAA West Regional after posting a 27-5 record and a 13-3 slate in the MIAA.
Wooldridge ended his CMSU career as only the fourth coach in Mules history to win more than 100 games (131-48), with only Lynn Nance reaching that plateau faster. He is also the only coach in school history to record back-to-back 25-win seasons (1989-90 & 1990-91).
Wooldridge's success at CMSU translated into the opportunity to coach at the Division I level for the first time in his career. In 1991, he became head coach of Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
Taking over a program that had suffered through seven straight sub-.500 seasons, Wooldridge had Southwest Texas above the .500 mark in just his second season. That 14-13 mark in 1992-93 would be a precursor of greater things to come.
The following year, 1993-94, would be one of the best seasons in school history. Wooldridge led the Bobcats to a 25-7 record, including a 14-4 mark in the Southland Conference.
Sparked by a pair of All-Conference performers, Lynwood Wade and Russell Ponds, SWT captured the Southland postseason tournament title to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It marked the Bobcats' first trip to the "Big Dance" in school history and their 25 wins were the fourth-most in a season at SWT.
Despite a first-round exit to nationally ranked UMass in the NCAA Tourney, Wooldridge had the Bobcats headed in the right direction. That improvement triggered a coaching opportunity that would be difficult to ignore. Following his success in reviving SWT, Louisiana Tech called with the chance to return to his alma mater as head coach. Wooldridge accepted the offer to become head coach of the Bulldogs beginning with the 1994-95 season.
Ironically, current K-State associate head coach Mike Miller took over for Wooldridge upon his departure from SWT and led the Bobcats back to the NCAA Tournament three years later. Miller was the first addition to Wooldridge's Wildcat staff.
A native of Oklahoma City, Okla., Wooldridge played on Putnam City High School's class 4A state championship team in 1972. After receiving his bachelor's degree in physical education from Louisiana Tech in 1978, he earned a master's degree in education from East Central University in 1979. Wooldridge and his wife, Ann, have two children: Jamie (17) and Eric (10).