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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Olson extends leave for rest of season

    Lute Olson
    Lute Olson

    UA head coach Lute Olson will miss the remainder of the season, citing personal family matters that require his attention.

    Olson, 73, has been on a leave of absence since Nov. 4 and has not coached a game this season, but he said in a press release he plans to return to his post next year.

    “”I do this with great reluctance, because I care greatly about the University of Arizona, the basketball program and the players on this team,”” he said. “”But there are personal issues within my family that need to be addressed, and I must devote my full energy to that.

    “”To our basketball fans and the community, I ask your patience in allowing me the time to attend to my personal situation. I am most grateful for the statements of support and prayers that have been offered, and look forward to a return to more normal activities in the months ahead.””

    Reached on his cell phone Thursday night, UA athletic director Jim Livengood said Olson’s season off will be termed an “”authorized leave of absence with pay,”” so he will make his full $714,567 annual salary. According to a 2006 database, Olson is the university’s highest-paid employee.

    UA personnel can take unpaid leaves of absence for up to a year, during which time their position is held for them, said Allison Vaillancourt, the UA associate vice president for human resources. They can get paid during that time like Olson will if they have accrued vacation and/or sick time.

    With the announcement being made just after 9:30 p.m. Thursday night, Livengood said it’s too early to say what the Wildcats would do for the remainder of the year with the opening on their coaching staff.

    College staffs can have a head coach and three on-court assistants, but the Wildcats have played a coach short thus far with interim head coach Kevin O’Neill and assistants Josh Pastner and Miles Simon.

    “”The big thing right now is it is what it is, and we need to do what we can now that we know what’s exactly going to happen,”” Livengood said. “”We know Lute’s not going to be there. We have an interim head coach. We have a number of decisions to make very, very shortly. We’ll move on now and make other decisions we need to make with regard to this year.””

    Olson returned to practice on Nov. 26 and has since taken part in six practices and a pre-game shootaround. Livengood confirmed Olson will not attend any more practices as part of his leave.

    At a media session on Nov. 27 players were under the impression that Olson had returned “”for good,”” as guard Jerryd Bayless said at the time. There’s no confusion anymore, however, as O’Neill said in the press release he has spoken to the team and the players fully understand Olson’s decision.

    “”We have some great student-athletes on this team,”” O’Neill said. “”It has been a challenge for them to deal with the uncertainty surrounding all this. But they have handled it with extraordinary grace, and are fully focused on the season ahead.””

    Olson, 780-280 in his career, has coached the Wildcats for the past 24 years, leading the program to a national championship, four Final Fours, 11 Pacific 10 Conference titles and the longest-active streak of 23 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. He also owns the nation’s third-best winning percentage over the past 20 years.

    Livengood said O’Neill has done an “”absolutely superb job”” in place of Olson, leading the Wildcats to a 5-2 record entering Saturday’s game against Illinois in Chicago after upsetting then-No. 9 Texas A&M Sunday.

    “”Kevin has done a great job and has my full confidence and certainly the university’s confidence and the confidence of Lute as well,”” Livengood said.

    In the meantime, Livengood said the athletics department wants to be supportive of Olson, wishing him nothing but the best as he tends to his family issues.

    As for how the situation will affect the team, he said is “”fully hypothetical”” and can play out either way.

    “”The most important thing right now is doing those things that will help Lute do what he needs to and then deal with Kevin and the players,”” Livengood said. “”All of that’s being done. I think it’s sometimes hard to predict how and what beyond that.””

    For more on the Olson situation, check out the Wildcat‘s blog.

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