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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The end of an era: Lute Olson retires

    Lute+Olson%2C+1983
    Lute Olson, 1983

    After taking last season off for personal reasons, Lute Olson said Tuesday he was more energized and happy to be back at the helm of the UA men’s basketball team this season.

    Then the unthinkable happened.

    Olson, 74, announced he has retired after 24 full seasons with the Wildcats.

    “”This was not a decision that was made lightly,”” Olson said in a statement. “”I’ve had a wonderful run at the University of Arizona. I leave with a great sense of pride in what we have accomplished here.””

    It appears that associate head coach Mike Dunlap will take over the team on an interim basis, but Arizona Athletics Director Jim Livengood, who addressed the media at 5 p.m. outside of McKale Center on Thursday, said a national search would begin to replace Olson.

    “”Starting (Friday), it will be about going forward,”” Livengood said at the conference, which did not include Olson. “”I do not have a decision at this point in time of who’s going to head our men’s basketball program, but that will be announced in the very, very short future.””

    News of the retirement did not come through the UA athletic department initially. Around 9 a.m. local time Thursday, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale reported that Olson would be retiring, and then other Internet sites reported the news. But Arizona Athletics sports information directors denied the claim because they hadn’t heard from Olson.

    UA President Robert Shelton’s office released a statement a little after noon stating, “”Lute hasn’t tendered any resignation at all.””

    It wasn’t until Livengood’s news conference that Arizona Athletics cleared the air.

    “”Moments ago – and I mean moments ago – I received confirmation from coach Olson and his representatives that he intends to retire from his position as the head basketball coach of the University of Arizona, effective immediately,”” Livengood said before a massive herd of media. “”At this point in time, today, October 23, really is a day to do nothing other than honor Lute. And that’s exactly what we intend to do.””

    As word of Olson’s retirement spread throughout the day Thursday, TV news trucks lined the street outside of McKale Center. Reporters hung in and out of the arena for hours. Players were rushed with questions but were largely uneducated about the situation.

    “”One, I don’t know anything,”” forward Chase Budinger said around noon. “”And we’re not allowed to talk about it.””

    Added forward Jordan Hill: “”We don’t know a damn thing.””

    Olson retired with a career record of 780-280 (.736) in 34 seasons as an NCAA Division I head coach and 589-187 (.759) in 24 seasons at Arizona. He led the Wildcats to four Final Four appearances and a national title in 1997. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 27, 2002.

    Olson produced 52 NBA Draft picks, including 31 at Arizona – 14 of them were first-round picks. He coached 19 Wildcat All-Americans.

    “”Lute Olson transformed the UA and Tucson into premier basketball country,”” Shelton said in the statement released with Olson’s statement. “”Arizona now stands in the company of great college basketball programs, and we have Lute to thank for that. We will sorely miss his brilliance as our head coach, but we will benefit from the legacy he leaves for decades to come.””

    Olson missed practice and the annual Rotary Club luncheon on Wednesday for health-related issuesÿ-ÿhe had a raspy voice Tuesday that he attributed to yelling in practice. Assistant coach Reggie Geary spoke at the luncheon in his place.

    The announcement of Olson’s retirement has already taken a toll on Arizona’s recruiting class. One of the Wildcats’ three verbally committed 2009 recruits decommitted Thursday, according to OregonPreps.com.

    Mike Moser, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward from Portland, Ore., told the Rivals.com affiliate that he will no longer be a Wildcat after hearing the news and failing to get in contact with Olson by phone.

    According to BruinReportOnline.com, UCLA has already been in contact with five-star UA commit Abdul Gaddy, who retracted, then restated his verbal promise to become a Wildcat.

    Being with family was a reason for leaving the Wildcat program, Olson said in his statement.

    “”At this stage in my life, I want to devote my time to my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, family and friends,”” Olson said. “”I look forward to watching Wildcat basketball and visiting with my colleagues in the coaching profession. It is time to pass the program on to a younger staff, to transition the university to the next generation of basketball.””

    Last spring Olson said he was planning on coaching until 2011 when his contract expires, but in his press conference Tuesday, he said, “”Everything is a year-to-year situation. The health, the energy, how well you communicate with the kids.””

    Olson missed all of last season due to a “”medical condition that was not life-threatening,”” he said in the spring. Kevin O’Neill took over the team on an interim basis and led Arizona to a 19-15 record and the school’s 24th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the nation’s longest active streak.

    After once being named Olson’s successor, O’Neill is now with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. And though it is undetermined who will take over at the helm for this upcoming season, one thing is for sure: The Silver Fox’s shoes will never be filled just right.

    “”We will never replace Lute Olson,”” Livengood said in a statement. “”But we do have to find a successor, and we have to move quickly. I intend to recruit a coach who is worthy to inherit Lute’s astounding legacy.””

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