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Bruce Weber spent Thursday evening house-searching, but the recently-hired Kansas State men's basketball coach wasn't as concerned with how many baths the particular properties had, as much as whether Manhattan, Kansas can truly become his home.
“Kansas State is very similar to Purdue,” Weber said. “You've got a great fan base. They are good solid people like you have at Purdue. They are very similar and hopefully we can do half as well as we did at Purdue.”
Ah, those were the days for Weber and his family.
The 55-year-old spent 18 highly successful seasons as an assistant to Gene Keady in West Lafayette before leaving to lead the Southern Illinois program, where the achievements and happiness followed him for five seasons. His success didn't end in Carbondale. Weber took the same job at Illinois in 2003 and coached nine successful, yet unfulfilling to the Illini administration, seasons before being fired this spring.
“I did things that no one else did in the history of the school,” Weber said of his stint in Champaign. “We won a Big Ten championship (2004), which was the first outright championship in 52 years.”
The critics were many, but the numbers didn't lie. Weber's 67.5 winning percentage is higher than Illinois coaching icon Lou Henson's. He guided Illinois to a pair of Big Ten championships and a Big Ten Tournament title.
“I'm the only coach ever to take them to the national championship game (2005),” Weber said. “Someone told me that I might have the best record to ever get fired other than from cheating or scandals.”
After being dismissed, Weber and his wife, Megan, wondered what the future would bring.
“I believe things happen for a reason,” Weber said.
He had the comfort of a $3.9 million buyout from Illinois, so he wasn't desperate for just any job. He spoke with some agents about opportunities in the NBA and Southern Illinois offered – and offered – and offered him – his old job back, but Weber “just really had a hesitation about it.”
“After I turned Southern down for about the third time,” Weber explained, “I told my wife that I might not have a job this year.”
Weber sought guidance from friends and mentors, but it turned out that Weber's best coaching advice came from his wife. He had “4 or 5 opportunities over a 3 or 4 day period,” and was on the verge of accepting the job at College of Charleston when the Kansas State position opened.
“(Megan) said there is no way that you are going to be able to sit out for a year,” Weber said. “When you look at Charleston, Ohio University, Southern Illinois, Colorado State or SMU or wherever, she asked if I had the fire in me to be at the highest level and I said yeah, I really think that I do.”
The Wildcat program is very similar to the Illini one, in that Weber is following a highly successful coach (Frank Martin). Some coaches would be intimidated by a winning predecessor, but after 33 years in the profession, Weber has learned to spot a positive when he sees it. He loves what Martin and former Kansas State coach Bob Huggins have established in Manhattan.
“The thing that I am lucky with is that Frank and Coach Huggins have created a culture of toughness,” Weber said.
That is a far cry from what Weber developed within the Illinois program and he would be the first to admit that. Perhaps Weber's lowest moment in Champaign was a post-game news conference following a loss to Purdue this season. He lamented what type of coaching job he had done with his team and how he had “coached this season not to lose.”
“We have to play off of our (toughness),” Weber said of the current group of Wildcats. “We are fortunate to have that. We're going to have to do what we did at Purdue and find the (current NBA player) Brian Cardinals of the world, the tough kids that end up being overachievers and have great success.”