K-State's rich coaching past paves way for one of the country's top basketball traditions.
Through the years, Kansas State's coaching ledger has read like a who's who of great basketball minds. The nine coaches listed below coached the Wildcats in Ahearn Field House and Bramlage Coliseum. Their predecessors laid the foundation for K-State basketball, however these individuals are widely recognized for the school's most successful hoop years - the post World War II era.
1939-42, 1946-53 (147-81)
Jack Gardner had great numbers, great teams and great results. That is why he is enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame, basketball's highest reward. It's also the reason that he is often credited with beginning the great basketball tradition that exists at Kansas State today. Simply stated, he got it all started. Interestingly, he is the only coach in school history to hold the top position on two different occasions. His second stint at the school resulted in some of the best basketball ever played in Manhattan.
Entering the 1946-47 season the team hadn't finished above the .500 mark for 15 years, but Gardner, renowned for his tactical prowess, rallied the purple and white to a 14-10 season in the initial season of his second go-around. The 1950-51 team would soar to a 25-4 record and a second place finish in the NCAA Tournament. Gardner's teams won a total of three conference crowns in seven years and captured two Big Eight Holiday Tournament championships, in addition to finishing the season ranked in the Top 20 on two occasions.
Aside from his on-the-court accomplishments, Gardner is remembered as a driving force behind the construction of Ahearn Field House. His successful teams of the late ‘40s drove basketball fans in these parts into a frenzy, and tickets were as rare as the losses. After nearly a decade of trying to persuade state legislators that a new facility was needed, the new arena became a reality.
Gardner, a native of New Mexico and a graduate of the University of Southern California, responded with the 1950-51 team which was arguably the best in K-State history and one of two that would go to the Final Four during his tenure (the other was in 1948).
Gardner left Manhattan in 1953 to take over the head coaching reins at the University of Utah, where he remained for 18 years. He led the Utes to six appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two Final Four appearances. He finished his career in Salt Lake City with a 339-154 record while winning seven conference titles. Between 1959 and 1962, his teams accumulated a 515 record. Again, Gardner was again partially responsible for the construction of a new basketball facility at Utah.
Gardner, who was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, has been inducted into 10 different Hall of Fames. He is also a member of the Southern Utah Hall of Fame, Utah All-Sports Hall of Fame, State of Utah Basketball Hall of Fame, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Helms Foundation Hall of Fame, Kansas State University Hall of Fame, the Crimson Club (University of Utah), the Modesto (Calif.) Junior College Hall of Fame and the Redlands (Calif.) High School Hall of Fame. He was also the recipient of the National Association of Basketball Coaches' Golden Anniversary Award.
Gardner worked as a consultant for the Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association from 1979 (when the team moved from New Orleans) until 1991. Gardner, who passed away on April 9, 2000, is credited with discovering John Stockton at Gonzaga while working for the Jazz.
Fred "Tex" Winter
Fred "Tex" Winter was an assistant coach during Jack Gardner's glory years. He was a natural to succeed his mentor, although the early years were tough. So tough, in fact, that at one point signs sprouted saying, "Spring is here, Winter must go." Fortunately, Winter stayed, and it was a "long, hard Winter" for K-State opponents for 15 years. Winter earned a reputation as one of the most creative offensive coaches in the land.
Winter owns the best winning percentage of any Kansas State coach, and also laid claim to more league titles (eight) than any other Wildcat coach. He would lead the school to post-season play seven times, including six trips to the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State won the Big Eight Holiday Tournament four times under his leadership, and achieved top 20 finishes four times. Eleven K-Staters achieved all-league honors under Winter, and two (Jack Parr and Bob Boozer) were All-Americans.
There were several outstanding teams under Winter, two of which made appearances at the Final Four. Spearheaded by the play of Bob Boozer, the 1958 team advanced all the way to the semifinals, before being upended. Then, in 1964, the Wildcats charged back to the Final Four, finally being eliminated by UCLA, 90-84.
Winter, a native of Huntington Park, Calif., began his coaching career at Marquette University from 1947-51. Like Gardner, Winter graduated from the University of Southern California, although he attended Oregon State prior to fulfilling a military commitment. A fine all-around athlete, he was an All-America pole vaulter at USC.
When Winter departed Manhattan in 1968, he assumed the head coaching chores at the University of Washington, before spending two years with the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association.
From there, it was on to Long Beach State University as the head coach. He later served as an assistant coach at Louisiana State before taking the job as an assistant coach under Phil Jackson with the Chicago Bulls, winners of three consecutive NBA titles from 1991-93, and again from 1996-98. Following the Bulls sixth championship, Winter served as an assistant with former Wildcat head coach Jim Wooldridge under the direction of current USC head coach Tim Floyd. He then followed Jackson to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999 and they went on to capture the NBA title in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He retired from the coaching ranks prior to the 2008-09 season.
Lowell "Cotton" Fitzsimmons
Cotton Fitzsimmons and Tex Winter had at least three things in common. Neither used their given first name (Fitzsimmons' real name is Lowell), both took over the head coaching job at Kansas State after serving as an assistant and both are remembered for a coaching style marked by personality and winning ways.
Fitzsimmons was a menace in the Big Eight Conference in his two years. He finished second in his initial campaign, then won the league crown in his second and final season. That second team eclipsed the 20-win mark, made a trip to the NCAA Tournament and earned Fitzsimmons Big Eight Coach-of-the-Year honors.
Fitzsimmons was colorful, literally. He became the only coach to ever add a third color to the uniforms, when he attached a gold trim during his stay. Of a less literal, Fitzsimmons' style drew attention, too. His first team finished 14-12, but that 1968-69 squad averaged more fans (12,166 per game) than any team in pre-Bramlage Coliseum history.
A native of Hannibal, Mo., he began his coaching career at Moberly (Mo.) Junior College, where he compiled a 224-58 record and won two national titles. He was twice named the National Junior College Coach of the Year.
After leaving K-State, Fitzsimmons became the head coach of the Kansas City Kings of the National Basketball Association. During his 20-year coaching career that began in 1970, he compiled a record of 832-775 (.518), finishing his career sixth on the NBA all-time victory list and as a two-time NBA Coach of the Year.
Shrewd, calculating and intense all describe the winningest coach in Kansas State history. Jack Hartman endeared himself to K-Staters for a number of reasons, but none more memorable than his ability to take seemingly less talented teams and consistently come out on the winning side of the ledger.
Hartman led Kansas State to three Big Eight titles, two Big Eight Tourneys and nine postseason appearances. He saw the ‘Cats register 20 or more wins seven times. He was honored as National Coach-of-the-Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches after a storybook 1981 season. That year, the Wildcats charged into the NCAA West Regional Finals on the strength of upset wins over San Francisco, Illinois and second-ranked Oregon State.
In 23 years of coaching at the Division I level (the other seven at Southern Illinois), Hartman was 439-233. Throw in seven years of junior college coaching at Coffeyville (Kan.) and you get an incredible record of 589-279.
In fact, Hartman was the last coach to take a junior college team through an entire season undefeated, including the national championship. His 1962 team accomplished that feat at 32-0.
Hartman coached a number of future pros. While at Southern Illinois, he tutored Walt Frazier, and at Kansas State, he produced players like Mike Evans, Rolando Blackman and Ed Nealy. In addition, he was the head coach for the United States at the 1983 Pan American Games, and led the Americans to the gold medal.
A two-sport star while in college at Oklahoma State, Hartman actually played professionally on the gridiron. After garnering All-Missouri Valley honors as OSU's quarterback, he played for Saskatchewan in the CFL. He was also an outstanding basketball player, and played for the incomparable Henry Iba.
Hartman retired from coaching after the 1985-86 season. He served as a color analyst for the Wildcat Television Network and the Big Eight Conference television package following his retirement. He remained active in K-State athletics until his death in November 1998.
Lon Kruger, a two-time Big Eight Conference Player-of-the-Year for K-State in the early ‘70s, is remembered for many outstanding accomplishments. At the top of that list, however, one will find four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Despite K-State's lofty reputation in NCAA Tournament play, no KSU coach had been able to secure four-straight trips to the prestigious event. Kruger changed all that by taking the ‘Cats to the NCAA Tournament in each of his four years at the helm, and became the first coach in school history to win 20 games in his initial season as head coach.
His best team was the 1987-88 club, which featured All-American Mitch Richmond. That squad tied the school record for wins at 25-9 and advanced all the way to the Midwest Regional title game at Pontiac, Mich. Following that season, he was named NABC District Coach of the Year.
With a coaching style marked by calculated precision and calm under pressure, Kruger led the Wildcats to several triumphs that will be recalled for many years to come. His upsets of some of the nation's highest-ranked teams became almost routine as his trips to the NCAA Tournament.
A native of Silver Lake, Kan., Kruger served as an assistant to Jack Hartman at K-State before accepting the head position at the University of Texas-Pan American from 1982-86.
Following his head coaching stint in Manhattan, Kruger moved on to Florida for six seasons (1990-96) where he led the Gators to the 1994 Final Four, before serving as head coach of Illinois for four years (1996-2000).
Kruger left Illinois in May 2000 to take over as head coach of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. He compiled a 69-122 record with the Hawks from 2000-02 before being replaced on Dec. 26, 2002. After a short stint as assistant coach with the New York Knicks, Kruger returned to his college roots when he was named head coach at Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) on March 15, 2004. In 2006-07, he became just the fifth coach in NCAA history to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament where he guided the Running Rebels to the Sweet 16 in 2007. He is also one of just three coaches in NCAA history to win an NCAA Tournament game with four different schools.
Although his four-year tenure as K-State's head coach only produced one NCAA Tournament appearance, Dana Altman will be remembered most for his uncanny ability to win close ball games, and for pulling off some of the biggest upsets in school history.
Altman's teams were a remarkable 28-13 in games decided by six points or less, which included a 6-1 mark in one-point games. His 1992-93 club perpetuated a K-State tradition. Picked to finish last in the Big Eight, Altman's Cardiac ‘Cats won 11 games in the final minute, earned the school's first Top 25 ranking in five seasons, finished 19-11, reached the championship game of the Big Eight Tournament and returned K-State to the NCAA Tournament for the 21st time.
Altman's peers named him Big Eight Coach-of-the-Year in 1993 and he capped the season by upsetting No. 6 Kansas 74-67 in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
The following season, he made it two in a row over KU when he upset the No. 1 ranked Jayhawks 68-64 on ESPN in Lawrence. His 1993-94 squad finished the season with a 20-14 record and advanced to the NIT Final Four in New York City. Following the season, he accepted the head coaching position at Creighton in his home state of Nebraska, where he just concluded his 15th season.
Following a successful tenure at Pepperdine, Tom Asbury became Kansas State's head coach in 1994 and coached the Wildcats to 85 wins and three postseason appearances in six seasons. After rebuilding in 1995 with a young squad, he led the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament in 1996 for the first time in three seasons with a 17-12 overall record. Asbury also guided the Wildcats to back-to-back NIT appearances in 1998 and 1999. The 1998-99 squad captured the 19th 20-win season in school history. Asbury's teams were known for their toughness on defense and in 1998-99 led the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to just 37.1 percent shooting from the field.
A year after leaving Kansas State, Asbury accepted an assistant coaching position at Alabama under former protégé Mark Gottfried. After a brief retirement, he returned to the sidelines in March 2008 for his second stint as the head coach at Pepperdine.
Jim Wooldridge became the 20th head coach in Kansas State history in 2000 after a two-year stint as an assistant coach to Tim Floyd with the NBA's Chicago Bulls. He previously was the head coach at Central Missouri State (1985-91), Texas State (1991-94) and his alma mater, Louisiana Tech (1994-98) prior to his stint with the Bulls. A native of Oklahoma City, Okla., Wooldridge guided the Wildcats to 83 wins during his six-year tenure as head coach, including back-to-back winning seasons in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Wooldridge slowly but steadily re-built the Wildcat program from nine wins the year before he arrived to 17 victories just five years later. The team started the 2004-05 with eight straight victories, which represented the best start by a squad since the 1979-80 team also started 8-0, en route to posting their best non-conference record (10-1) since 1993-94. The team went on to tally six wins over teams that advanced to the postseason, but narrowly missed the postseason. His last team achieved a winning mark with a 15-13 record, but lost nine games by five points or less, which tied for the second-highest total in the nation.
Upon leaving K-State, Wooldridge worked as the Director of Major Gifts at Texas State before returning to the coaching ranks as the head coach at UC Riverside in May 2007.
One of the most successful coaches in the country with over 500 career wins and 15 NCAA Tournament appearances to his credit, Bob Huggins was named the 21st basketball coach at Kansas State on March 23, 2006. Although he served as head coach for just one season, Huggins made an immediate impact at the school, as he guided the Wildcats to a 23-12 overall record and a fourth-place finish in Big 12 Conference play with a 10-6 mark.
The 23 wins were the most by the program since the 1987-88 team compiled 25 en route to advancing to the Elite Eight and the first 20-win season in nearly a decade. Huggins also helped the Wildcats' return to the postseason for the first time since 1999, as the squad reached the second round of the MasterCard NIT. His 23 wins were the most by a first-year coach in school history, while he became just the second rookie coach in school history to guide his team to the postseason. Huggins' 10 Big 12 wins were the most by a Wildcat squad since the league's inception in 1997 and the most in a single-season since the 1987-88 squad produced 11.
He also helped the program set all sorts of attendance marks, as the Wildcats posted the second-highest average attendance (12,301) in Bramlage Coliseum history and produced a single-season best six sellouts. In addition, he helped the squad capture their first in-season tournament title in 10 years by winning the Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Holiday Classic on Dec. 23, 2006.
Huggins left Kansas State in the spring of 2007 when he was named head coach at his alma mater, West Virginia.