John Currie said, “Bruce Weber’s availability was a blessing.”
With that said, the former Illinois basketball coach was named as Kansas State’s 24th all-time men’s basketball coach Saturday afternoon in a press conference called for Bramlage Coliseum.
“I could not be more excited about the opportunity that has presented itself here at K-State,” said Weber.
“I’m happy to come to a place that has great tradition. When I’ve talked with people over the last couple of weeks, the main thing they emphasize to me – my mentors and peers -- that I just don’t take any job. So I’m very fortunate to take a job where there is already something built. Frank has created a positive culture, along with Bob Huggins. It makes it easier as a coach when you go to a place that has tradition. You understand you don’t have to recreate, you don’t have to re-energize and, obviously, there’s some pretty good players here that have had success in both the Big 12 and even in the NCAA Tournament. This is a tremendous job for me.”
Currie, who said he talked to multiple candidates, called the five-day search “… intense, but exciting because we found so many fine people interested in the K-State job and recognize how it is a position of tremendous opportunity.”
Mentioning the names of several of K-State’s past coaches and players, Weber said taking the job was a “… no-brainer” considering the Wildcats’ tradition, current roster, fan base, facilities and Big 12 Conference.
The first to contact Weber about the position was former K-State quarterback Gene Keady, who Weber coached with at Western Kentucky and Purdue from 1980-81 to 1997-98.
Keady, a Garden City native and K-State graduate, called Weber “… one of the top five coaches in the nation. I feel proud and lucky as a K-State alum to have him as the coach of my alma mater.”
Weber will not be entirely new to K-State as he was Keady’s top assistant when the Wildcats defeated the No. 3 ranked Boilermakers in the 1988 NCAA Tournament, and ironically, it was Purdue that helped K-State open Bramlage Coliseum on Nov. 26, 1988. K-State also won that game, 81-77.
“The officiating was terrible,” quipped Weber. “We lost.”
From around the country, the hiring of Weber to the Wildcat program was met with a standing ovation.
Rival coach Michigan State from the Big Ten said Weber was “… an incredible, incredible person, who does things the right way. I know he beat my team more often than not.”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings added, “Bruce Weber is one of the elite coaches in college basketball. He is one of the really good guys in our business.”
Currie first talked to Weber on Tuesday while in Dallas, Texas, and then flew to Chicago on Wednesday for a personal interview. Traveling to New Orleans, site of the NCAA Final Four, on Thursday, Currie interviewed other candidates, but kept coming back to Weber.
“The more individuals I talked to, his name was the one that rose to the top as a proven head coach, who had managed transition and wasn’t afraid of transition,” said Currie. “The further I dug, the better, the better, the better it got. I simply couldn’t find anything wrong. He truly does represent the values and integrity of K-State and the state of Kansas.”
Chuckling, Currie said, “I heard he’s a guy that walks his dog and mows his own grass.”
The 55-year-old Weber has posted a 313-155 record in 14 seasons as a head coach at Southern Illinois (1998-2003) and Illinois (2003-2011). His winning percentage of .669 ranks 28th among active Division I head coaches, and his 313 victories are the 11th most by a head coach in his first 14 seasons in NCAA history.
But what impressed Currie even more about Weber were his core values and belief in the advancement of his players not only on the court but also as model student-athletes and citizens.
“We said at the beginning of this process that we will focus our search on candidates whose personal values and integrity reflect those of our university and citizens of the state of Kansas and who appreciate the unique opportunity of being part of a strong basketball heritage, and we are confident that Bruce Weber is that person,” said Currie.
Weber has led teams into postseason play 10 times in his 14 seasons, which has included eight NCAA appearances. Weber-coached teams advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2002, 2004 and 2005, with his 2005 team reaching the championship game where it lost to North Carolina.
Five of his teams won conference titles, which included two in the Missouri Valley and two in the Big Ten. Overall, his teams have averaged 22 victories per season.
At K-State, Weber only asked, “Give me a chance. I think my track record shows what I’ve done.”
He added, “People told me to only take a job where you can find success. This was that situation.”
Now, Weber said, “The most important thing now is winning over the players. I’m excited to get on the floor with them on Monday and see what they’re all about. This is about them. The most important thing is the student-athlete.”
Weber said he hopes to have a coaching staff in place in the next two weeks, and said he would attempt to have one member of that staff be someone off the 2011-12 KSU staff, or an assistant with K-State ties.
In forming a staff, Weber said, “It’s about loyalty and trust.”
And, those were the two words he used in defining Currie, while of KSU President Kirk Schulz, he said, “He’s a real guy. A lot of Presidents aren’t real guys.”
Weber’s five-year contract will call for $1.5 million in 2012-13, and he will receive a $100,000 base salary increase each year on the contract through $1.9 million in 2016-17.
In meeting with the returning players Saturday morning, Rodney McGruder said, “He just told us that he was happy to be here, and he had watched us on television and thought we had a nice team.”
Senior-to-be Jordan Henriquez added, “He seems like someone who will care about us on the off the court. He’s been to a Final Four a few years ago, so he must be able to coach.”
A native of Milwaukee, Wisc., he and his wife, Megan, have three daughters – Hannah, Christy and Emily. Weber is a 1978 Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate, plus attended Western Kentucky where he earned his Master’s in Education Administration and Physical Education.