Clearly it did not take Bruce Weber long to land back on his feet and hit the ground running.
Exactly 12 months ago, Weber was fired as head basketball coach at the University of Illinois — and for just cause based on his recent won-loss records.
After his first two Illini teams went 28-4 in conference, Weber’s teams were just .500 (61-61) in the seven seasons that followed, finishing 2012 losing 10 of 12 games.
The collegiate basketball coaching profession is a results-oriented business. It is also a ‘what have you done for me lately’ business, and suddenly that 2005 National Championship game appearance against North Carolina became a distant memory.
But Weber didn’t find himself out of the coaching game long once Kansas State suddenly had an opening after Frank Martin, for whatever reason, decided to move on to South Carolina (which just finished the 2013 regular season with a 14-17 record).
Kansas State did lose its regular season finale 76-70 at Oklahoma State, with a momentum swinging late on a charging foul that went in favor of national Player of the Year candidate Marcus Smart. The loss cost K-State a chance of winning the outright Big XII title, which the program had not won since 1977 — a team that would eventually lose in the NCAA tournament in a controversial last-second loss to eventual champion Marquette.
Still, the final regular season results far exceeded expectations. 14-4 in conference, 25-6 overall. And although the players are mostly Frank Martin recruits, Bruce Weber still gets much of the credit and is a very deserving Coach of the Year candidate.
Weber is a vastly different personality than Frank Martin, which is not to say whose temperament is necessarily better. Weber has a much calmer demeanor than his predecessor. This year, the Weber approach has helped. He has gotten the team to buy in.
The traits Weber learned to excel as a collegiate coach he learned very early on. He had a demanding father, who pushed his three sons and two daughters to become coaches and administrators. It was an ultra-competitive family. Coach Weber counts 14 trips to the emergency room growing up, on one occasion riding a bicycle that was struck by a car. Bruce attempted to hide the accident from his dad (in fear of being ruled out of his next game) until the motorist reported the incident.
Weber would play basketball at Milwaukee Marshall High School, and later Wisconsin-Milwaukee, before embarking on his coaching career.
Younger brother David Weber starred at Marshall on the hoops team and also in baseball, where he was the starting catcher as a freshman and eventually got attention from MLB scouts. David Weber eventually chose college hoops and (fittingly) wound up playing for Weber State. David then started blazing his own trail as a college assistant before he did a reality check, looking at the annual coaching carousel each March, and then deciding to settle down at the high school level in the Chicago area, where he has been very successful.
A couple years back Dave got the opportunity to coach an area All-Star team that not only included Iowa-turned-Wisconsin recruit Ben Brust but also son Austin Weber, who now plays at the Division II level and got to play against his uncle’s team at Illinois last year.
Except for senior leader Rodney McGruder, who hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to score a critical late-season victory at Baylor, this year’s K-State team has not had a lot of star power to rely on, unlike the other upper-echelon teams in the conference. Weber has to get a lot of the credit in that area as well.
Barring a championship-game run in the Big XII tourney, the committee will likely not be overly kind to the Wildcats on Selection Sunday, as they will likely be dinged for a soft non-conference schedule and a 5-6 record against top-50 opponents.
That said, I would not rule out the Sweet 16 for this team, and after that … who knows? Ranked the 22nd or 27th best program all-time (depending on who you believe), K-State has gone since 1964 without making the Final Four.
Could Bruce Weber be the head man to eventually end the 50-year drought? Time will tell, but he knows the route how to get there.