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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Lute remains mute

    Michael Schwartz
    Michael Schwartz

    Schwartz on Sports

    After a season’s worth of secrecy, UA head coach Lute Olson had the chance to set the record straight yesterday in his first press conference since taking a leave of absence on Nov. 4.

    Instead of finally offering the public answers to why he took a full season off as his program sputtered, Olson continued to beat around the bush and ended his opening statement by offering to take any questions, except those related to the leave of absence.

    But the media didn’t pack the room just to find out how his first week at work went.

    Olson went on the offensive from the start of the 48-minute session, striking back at reporters who wrote stories he didn’t approve of. When a question came that he didn’t want to take, he looked into Fox Sports Net Arizona’s cameras and said he could not answer that.

    After his leave ended, Olson had originally said he could not talk during his absence because he was on the Family Medical Leave Act, but that act only stipulates the employer is not allowed to talk.

    Olson said yesterday he went on FMLA in early December, but he has been on record talking to reporters in late January – a time he called “”a weak moment”” for giving the interview – before going back to not talking.

    It’s fine that Olson didn’t want to talk so he didn’t disrupt the team, but he should have just declined the interview requests instead of later blaming FMLA for the reason he could not speak to the media or to fans at the Senior Day festivities.

    Still, it would have been nice if he would have cleared up his original statement through the Gordon C. James Public Relations firm, his then-wife Christine Olson’s personal press agency, that this was not “”a health scare but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention”” before the press release on March 10 about his return.

    James, who drove from Phoenix to attend the press conference, said his company followed the protocol to get it approved and anybody who was quoted was consulted.

    “”I thought the most important thing is I would indicate why I was requesting the leave,”” Olson said about the original press release, an interesting statement because he did not accurately indicate why.

    The UA coach went on to berate every reporter and blogger who had speculated on his situation, even saying, “”I think (the media) should not be a ‘rumor mill.’ I don’t think they should be putting questions in people’s minds.””

    Olson had a chance to clear up those questions yesterday, but instead opened the press conference by saying, “”Frankly, even though I realize I’m a big public figure I don’t think I need to go into every nuance of my private life. There were things going on in my life that did create some health issues that I needed time to address, but it was not a health scare. … Beyond that I’m not going to get into any further detail regarding that.””

    This is not a Matt Leinart situation where people care about the intimate details of Olson’s private life.

    Instead, people want to know the reason why Olson took a season away from coaching when he had only missed a handful of games in his previous 24 years at the school.

    When asked what kind of treatment he had sought for the stress and anxiety he made reference to suffering from, Olson said, “”I’m already going beyond what I said I would do. No, that’s a personal issue, thank you for asking.””

    Asking what kind of treatment a public figure, who happens to be the university’s highest-paid employee, who just took a season off of work to attend to this secret sickness is very much a public issue that deserves a public answer.

    If Olson would have just said what he was suffering from in the beginning nobody would have faulted him whatsoever for taking the year off. Even now, he’d receive much more sympathy if he would just come clean about everything.

    The press conference ended with Olson being asked whether there’s any continuing medication or treatment he needs.

    Based on what he said throughout the afternoon, it was no surprise to see him read from his prepared statement a quote that has become the symbol of his entire leave of absence.

    “”Beyond that,”” Olson said, “”I’m not going to get into any further detail.””

    Michael Schwartz is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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