Lemons guided the Broncs for three seasons during the halcyon days of the 1970s before leaving for the Texas Longhorns in 1976. Kruger left for his alma-mater Kansas State in 1986 to succeed his mentor, Jack Hartman. Since he’s left, Kruger has guided a record five schools to the NCAA Tournament, most recently this season’s Oklahoma Sooners.
While I still contend Ryan Marks should have been given a chance to lead the Broncs back into relative relevance when they join the WAC next season, I do whole-heartedly agree with the approach UTPA athletic director Chris King took in selecting the Broncs’ new coach.
With the hiring of 58-year-old Dan Hipsher, the former head coach at Akron who served as an assistant at Alabama the last four seasons, King may have found someone who could stay here a while rather than look for the next gig. That’s not a guarantee, but Hipsher could be more invested in the Broncs’ program than say a young up-and-comer who is ready to rise up the college basketball ranks.
King, a former assistant AD at Alabama, used his Crimson Tide connections to land a coach with a proven track record at the NCAA Division I level. If you are a Broncs’ fans, you better hope this works out better than the last time the Broncs hired an assistant coach from a major program.
That, umm, didn’t work out so well.
Delray Brooks was a hot-shot assistant with Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats when UTPA hired him in 1997 to clean up a program that had been ravaged by NCAA sanctions from the Mark Adams’ era. (Adams was hired to clean up Kevin Wall’s mess, Ah, Broncs history).
Brooks, who was 31 when he arrived in the Valley, was an assistant when the Wildcats won the national championship in 1996. He was also on the sidelines when Christian Laettner sank his miracle shot that carried Duke over the Wildcats in the 1992 East Regional final at The Spectrum in Philadelphia.
Brooks, a former Mr. Basketball in Indiana, played one season for Bobby Knight with the Indiana Hoosiers in 1985-86 before transferring to Providence. Brooks’ lone season in Indiana coincided with the reporting done for John Feinstein’s seminal book, A Season on the Brink, and Brooks is featured prominently in it. At Providence, Brooks, along with Billy Donovan, were part of Pitino’s Friars’ team that advanced to the Final Four in 1987.
Brooks carried a huge basketball pedigree that, quite frankly, we had never seen here before. His first recruiting class was ranked in the top 25 nationally by one source. He was seemingly a savior for a Broncs program that has just one measly NIT appearance (a first-round loss) in its entire history as a NCAA Division I program.
Things crumbled for UTPA and Brooks when he was fired by the school in 1999 because of an embezzlement scandal. A school investigation revealed that Brooks had deposited a $25,000 check from a game against Southwest Missouri State (then coached by his former Hoosier teammate and recently-named UCLA coach Steve Alford) into his personal bank account. He was indicted by a Hidalgo County grand jury for theft by a public servant, a charge in which he eventually pleaded no contest in a plea bargain.
Now, forget the whole crime thing, there were indications Brooks was headed out of Broncland anyway. He had clashed with the then-Broncs’ athletic director Bill Weidner, and then UTPA was ousted from the Sun Belt Conference after his season in 1998. He was a finalist for the Arkansas-Little Rock job that eventually went to Sidney Moncrief in 1999. Brooks was actively looking for another job when he was dismissed.
That’s always been the Broncs’ problem. They have never been able to keep the good ones, and they have hired some bad ones.
Brooks’ departure and UTPA’s ejection from the Sun Belt Conference set the Broncs’ men’s basketball into obscurity. Since that time, the Broncs have failed to gain any traction until recently when it was announced it would head to the WAC. Most importantly, they are in a conference that has an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament, something they have not had since 1998.
Broncs’ fans are hoping Hipsher is a good one. He’s a veteran coach who seems to have a good reputation nationally, so that’s a plus. UTPA men’s basketball program needs some stability and some success.
But, more than anything, the Broncs just need someone who is going to stick around.