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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Olson takes leave of absence

    Lute Olson
    Lute Olson

    Lute Olson will take a leave of absence from his duties as Arizona men’s basketball head coach for personal reasons, UA athletics director Jim Livengood announced Sunday.

    Assistant coach Kevin O’Neill will take Olson’s place as interim head coach. No timetable has been set for Olson’s return.

    “”For the past 25 years, I have always given 110 percent to the team and this job,”” Olson said in a statement. “”In light of this personal matter, I feel it’s in the best interests of the team and university to take a leave of absence.

    “”It isn’t a health scare but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention.””

    O’Neill said it would not make any sense to adjust responsibilities on the staff among other assistants because he expects Olson back soon.

    Both Livengood and O’Neill stressed a number of times that Olson’s privacy must be respected but confirmed that the issue is not related to the health of the 73-year-old Olson.

    “”Where we are right now at this moment is trying to do anything and everything we can to allow Lute this time that he needs,”” Livengood said.

    Olson approached Livengood after Saturday’s Homecoming football game against UCLA about his need for a leave of absence. Livengood informed UA President Robert Shelton and talked a number of times with Olson and O’Neill in the time leading up to Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. press conference.

    Livengood said everybody was in agreement concerning what Livengood told Olson during their original conversation: “”Coach, whatever you need is what we’re going to do. Whatever’s in your best interests we’re going to do.””

    O’Neill will take over day-to-day operations of running the Wildcats and leading their staff, but he stressed it’s still Olson’s program and that he will likely talk with the head coach often. He described himself as an assistant coach taking over until the head coach returns, so it will be important for Olson to keep his pulse on the team.

    “”When we go out there today, I guess you could say I’m coaching the team, because that’s what Lute requested I do,”” O’Neill said before Arizona’s exhibition game against Concordia. “”He is the head coach, this will be his 25th year, and next year will be his 26th year. So that’s the way I’m approaching the whole thing.””

    Olson has led Arizona for the last 24 years entering 2007-2008 and has only once previously taken a leave of absence, when then-assistant coach Jim Rosborough led the Wildcats to a 3-2 record while Olson took time to grieve the death of his first wife, Bobbi, during the 2000-2001 season.

    When Livengood and O’Neill addressed the Arizona players on Sunday morning, they both felt the players expressed genuine concern for Olson, the coach who recruited them all, but no concern for how they’ll respond.

    “”Young and dumb is a good thing to be sometimes, and these guys really want to play basketball and want to get things going, but they’re very, very concerned for Coach,”” O’Neill said.

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