First-year Kansas State coach Bruce Weber is so new to the Big 12 that he called into his first league teleconference from Champaign, Ill., as movers were packing his family’s belongings for the journey to Manhattan, Kan.
Weber, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and TCU’s Trent Johnson are the newest coaches to join the Big 12, which will lose Missouri and Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference on July 1. In their place will be the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs.
Weber, who was fired by Illinois in March after nine seasons, has been impressed with what he’s seen so far after being immersed in the Big Ten.
“The success of the Big 12 as a basketball conference, a football conference, is just pretty eye-opening to be honest. Our whole staff, that’s the one thing we’ve talked a lot about,” Weber said Thursday in a call with reporters. “Comparing to the Big Ten, probably a little better athlete and maybe a little bit more open, up and down.”
Huggins knows all about the Big 12, having spent one memorable season at Kansas State before jumping to his alma mater before the 2007-08 season.
Huggins said that one of the changes that fans in Morgantown are most excited about in the leap from the 16-team Big East to the Big 12 will be the true round-robin schedule.
It should help the Mountaineers generate some heated rivalries before long.
“There were times, I think we played at Syracuse four years in a row and I think Louisville played at our place four years in a row. You don’t get to see all the teams,” Huggins said. “I don’t think you develop the rivalry like you do when you’re playing people on a home-and-home basis like we’re going to be able to do.”
The coach facing the biggest challenge in moving to the Big 12 has got to be TCU’s Trent Johnson.
Johnson left LSU after four seasons to take over at a school that got an invitation to the Big 12 based on its football success. But the Horned Frogs went 18-15 last season after winning just one league game in 2010-11, and Johnson sounded confident in the program’s ability to compete in the Big 12 right away.
“There’s some excitement, but also there’s a curiosity and there’s a wait-and-see approach or a wait-and-see attitude. Can we compete? Can we get it done at this level? And that’s good,” Johnson said. “I know what it’s like. I know what we’re getting into. But it’s been good, and I think people are just sitting in the back waiting. But this institution and this program athletically — it’s time. It’s time, in my opinion...to take on the challenges of the Big 12.”
For Weber, the offseason has been as much about recovering from his departure from Illinois as it’s been about preparing for the Big 12.
In the past three months, Weber has lost the best job he ever had, gained another top-flight gig and watched his daughter get married. He won’t have much time to settle in at Kansas State either, since the Wildcats will spend 10 days on a tour of Brazil in early August.
“Obviously you have a lot of emotional highs and lows within the stretch. But as I’ve said, I feel very, very fortunate to be at K-State, to walk into a pretty good job with great fans, good team, good facilities,” Weber said. “When you make a transition, any coach that’s done it, it is a whirlwind.”