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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


“Lute’s legacy: Olson built UA hoops, like him or not”

Lute Olson’s legacy at Arizona does not stop at one national championship, four final fours, 11 Pacific 10 Conference championships and 25 straight NCAA tournament appearances. An ugly ending to a impeccable career possibly tarnished his tenure.

But the man could coach, and it’s hard to argue the mark he left on Tucson.

“”Lute Olson is synonymous with Arizona, even more so than with Arizona basketball,”” said Roman Veytsman, a beat writer from 2005-2007 for the Daily Wildcat.

Coming from the University of Iowa in 1983, Olson brought relevance to the Wildcats, turned the city of Tucson into a basketball haven and simultaneously became the face of the university.

“”There’s no reason for one of the best programs in the last two decades to be in Tucson, Arizona, and that’s because of him,”” Connor Doyle, a 2001-2002 hoops writer for the Wildcat, said of Olson’s imprint on the city, adding, “”You can’t put a face on the Mars lander or the first artificial heart.””

But then there were the rough spots.

Olson’s departure from the Arizona men’s basketball program was not smooth. Through two years of interim head coaches, the Wildcats essentially stopped recruiting, stunting the program’s continuity.

He further injured his legacy with his back-and-forth statements, mostly surrounding his health. Then there was the appearance on a local radio show, where he and he soon-to-be ex-wife, Christine Olson, grappled over their divorce on the Tucson airwaves.

And on top of how he handled his departure, Olson left a bitter taste in the mouths of some Tucson media members.

At one Pac-10 Tournament press conference, Olson ripped into Doyle for asking a question about player disciplinary issues. Former guard Will Bynum had made an appearance in the Daily Wildcat’s Police Beat for an incident a month earlier, Doyle said.

Seeking answers, the Wildcat reporter asked if Bynum would be disciplined for – what a police report said – shooting out a dorm window with a bee-bee gun. Red in the face, Olson called Doyle a “”yellow journalist,”” then accused him of attempting to bring down the basketball program.

“”It’s as angry as I’ve ever seen him,”” Doyle said. “”I’ve never seen him lose his temper like that.””

Olson sometimes might have come across as defending his program to unnecessary extents.

“”The fact that he gets so enraged with something (where he could have said), ‘We dealt with it within the team,’ “” said Doyle, was a trait that made him a “”megalomaniac”” of sorts.

Not all his interaction with the media ended on a sour note.

Steve Rivera of the defunct Tucson Citizen wrote a October 24, 2008, column where he describes Olson inviting him on a lengthy 90-minute walk and talk. At the Daily Wildcat, Olson once called Veytsman and asked him to write about the student section, whose poor attendance during an exhibition game bothered the Hall of Fame coach.

“”I just remember him being a very classy individual,”” Veytsman said. “”For the most part, as far as I know, he did things the right way, he cared about his players.””

Olson’s success would not have come with selfishness or rudeness – he didn’t coach and recruit so many NBA caliber players by treating them poorly. He had their respect, but he also cared for them, which explains why 37 letter winners are returning for his tribute Saturday.

“”There’s so many extenuating factors that we still don’t even known about,”” said former Wildcat sports editor Michael Schwartz, who covered the basketball team during Olson’s leave of absence. “”This hasn’t been figured out at all.””

For the 24 years prior, Lute had been a model citizen, but we may never know if health reasons or otherwise led to the rocky ending. In his final years, “”it just wasn’t Lute Olson anymore,”” Schwartz said.

Even Doyle, an Olson critic, won’t deny the effect the head coach had on Tucson. He calls Olson the most versatile coach he’s ever watched and, in the end, will be one of the greatest program builders of all-time.

“”That’s not questionable.””

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