Kansas State Basketball: Ranking the Top Coaches in Wildcats History

Sean FryeFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2014

Kansas State Basketball: Ranking the Top Coaches in Wildcats History

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    The Little Apple has quietly been home to some of college basketball's greatest coaches at one point or another. 

    The most notable is undoubtedly Tex Winter, the innovator of the triangle offense. He was the head coach at Kansas State from 1953-1968. But some other well-known names to have held the position of head coach for the Wildcats include Lon Kruger, Dana Altman and Bob Huggins. 

    With that, let's check out the top 10 coaches in K-State basketball history. 

10. Bob Huggins

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    Bob Huggins, currently the head honcho at Big 12 rival West Virginia, spent one season—2006-07—at K-State.

    It was his first head coaching job after his resignation from Cincinnati and he went 23-12 overall and 10-6 in Big 12 play. The Wildcats ended up in the NIT that season, being one of the last few teams left out of the Big Dance. 

    Although he was there just one season, it was Huggins' impact on the program that lands him a spot on this list. His recruiting, which included the signing of prospect Michael Beasley, along with him bringing Frank Martin—who replaced Huggins—set the stage for the resurgence of K-State basketball, which had gone without a tourney berth since 1996. 

    After Huggins left, his predecessor Martin returned K-State to national prominence, capping it off with a run to the Elite Eight in the 2009-10 season. 

    Huggins himself may not have had a great deal of on-court success in Manhattan, but it was the culture change he brought to the Little Apple that returned the Wildcats to contender status. 

9. Dana Altman

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    From 1990-94, the Wildcats were headed by current Oregon head coach Dana Altman. 

    In four seasons, he was able to produce one NCAA tourney berth, a 68-54 overall record (.557) and a win over No. 1 Kansas in 1993-94. 

    Altman was also named the Big Eight Coach of the Year in 1993 after leading K-State to an NCAA tournament despite being picked to finish last in the preseason conference polls. 

    Altman wasn't wildly successful at K-State, but he routinely exceeded expectations and was the last real sniff of success that Manhattan had on hardwood until Bob Huggins took over in 2006-07. 

8. Zora G. Clevenger

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    Quick, name the coach with the highest winning percentage in K-State history. 

    It's not Tex Winter, Jack Gardner, Cotton Fitzsimmons or even Bruce Weber or Frank Martin. 

    It's Zora G. Clevenger, who headed the Wildcats from 1916-20 during the program's infancy. He finished his four-year tenure with a 54-17 record (.761) and two Missouri Valley Conference titles. 

    He also held a 9-7 record against archrival Kansas, one of the few coaches in Kansas State history to have a winning record against the Jayhawks. 

7. Cotton Fitzsimmons

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    Cotton Fitzsimmons is widely known as one of the best coaches in Phoenix Suns history and considered one of the architects of the Suns' success in the late 20th century. 

    But from 1968-1970, Fitzsimmons called Manhattan, Kansas home. 

    In just two seasons, Fitzsimmons left Kansas State with a 34-20 record, an appearance in the 1970 Sweet 16 and a Big Eight Conference championship that same year. 

    Fitzsimmons was the successor to Tex Winter, so he took the job knowing he had some huge shoes to fill. But his success at K-State helped land him with the Suns in 1970 and set the stage for the 832 wins he amassed in his NBA coaching career. 

6. Bruce Weber

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    Weber, the current head coach at K-State, has only been in Manhattan for two years. But in that short time, he's won the school's first-ever Big 12 title and has amassed more wins (47) in his first two years at the school than any other coach in the program's history. 

    Weber took the job in Manhattan following Frank Martin's departure to South Carolina in 2012. Since then, he's kept up the program's resurgence, which was laid down by Bob Huggins and Martin, and has put the Wildcats in great position to be a tourney team year in and year out. 

    In his first season, he was named 2013 Big 12 Coach of the Year after giving the Wildcats their first conference championship in 36 years. 

    Heading into 2014-15, Weber has the Wildcats poised to make a run at another Big 12 title behind rising sophomore Marcus Foster, who was one of the nation's best freshmen a season ago, as well forward Thomas Gipson and incoming transfers Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt. 

    Of any coach on this list, Weber has the easiest path to climb up it. If he stays on his current path, expect Weber to go down as one of the top two or three coaches in K-State history. 

5. Frank Martin

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    Known for his fire and brimstone mentality, Frank Martin was the main guy behind Kansas State's resurgence in the late 2000s. 

    Martin, who coached the Wildcats for five seasons between 2007-12, recorded 117 wins, the most in any five-year stretch in K-State history. He also made the NCAA tournament in four of his five seasons and took the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2009-10. 

    He also brought in and coached some of the best talent K-State has seen in recent memory, inlcuding Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, Jacob Pullen and Rodney McGruder. Beasley ended up being the No. 2 NBA draft pick in 2008, while Pullen left the program in 2011 as its all-time leading scorer. 

    Martin left Manhattan on bad terms following the controversial suspension of Jamar Samuels in the 2012 NCAA tournament, which many believe led Martin to seek other job opportunities. 

    But his body of work helped put K-State on the solid footing its on today. 

4. Lon Kruger

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    Lon Kruger has his number hanging from the rafters at Bramlage Coliseum as one of the best players in program history. From 1986-90, he became the head coach and one of the most successful ever for the Wildcats. 

    In four seasons, he led K-State to an 81-46 record and took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament all four years, the only coach in K-State history to achieve the feat of four straight tourney berths. 

    Kruger was also the first coach in school history to win 20 or more games in his first season. 

    His best season was in 1987-88, when he took Mitch Richmond and the rest of the Wildcats to the Elite Eight. 

    Kruger is currently the head coach at Oklahoma, where he employs Steve Henson, another former K-State letterman, as one of his assistants. 

3. Jack Gardner

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    The first true legendary coach for K-State was Jack Gardner, who held non-consecutive tenure in Manhattan between 1939-42 and then 1946-53. 

    A current member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Gardner finished with a 147-81 record. His second stint as head coach is where he found success though, as he took the Wildcats to their only national title game appearance in the 1951 Final Four. 

    Gardner left K-State with three conference titles (Big Seven) and two trips to the Final Four. 

2. Jack Hartman

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    Kansas State's all-time leader in wins (295) and NCAA tournament appearances (7), Jack Hartman checks in at No. 2 on this list. 

    Hartman coached the Wildcats from 1970-86, taking over for Cotton Fitzsimmons. He won three Big Eight titles and also took K-State to the Elite Eight four times. 

    His most memorable season came in 1980-81, when he was named the National Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. During that season, the Wildcats made the Elite Eight thanks largely in part to Rolando Blackman's buzzer-beating jumper to upend then-No. 2 Oregon State. That shot later graced the cover of Sports Illustrated

1. Tex Winter

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    Tex Winter, the legendary innovator of the triangle offense that helped propel Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles, was the head coach at K-State from 1953-68. 

    His resume at K-State includes 261 wins, two trips to the Final Four, six NCAA tournament appearances and eight conference championships, the latter being the most of any coach in school history. 

    Winter and Jack Gardner are the only two coaches to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. 

    Currently, Winter can often be found at K-State games and practices, accompanied by one of his old players, Ernie Barrett.