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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    It’s official: O’Neill to succeed Olson

    UA interim head coach Kevin ONeill, left, talks with The Voice of the Wildcats Brian Jefferies during a radio show Tuesday afternoon in the UA BookStore at the Student Union Memorial Center. ONeill will take over as the head coach of the Wildcats when Lute Olson retires.
    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, left, talks with “”The Voice of the Wildcats”” Brian Jefferies during a radio show Tuesday afternoon in the UA BookStore at the Student Union Memorial Center. O’Neill will take over as the head coach of the Wildcats when Lute Olson retires.

    When the time comes for the “”Silver Fox”” to step down from the throne, the “”Mad Scientist”” will take his place.

    Kevin O’Neill will succeed Lute Olson as the Arizona men’s basketball head coach whenever Olson’s tenure concludes, UA athletic director Jim Livengood announced Tuesday.

    “”Kevin is our coach for now, and will be our coach in the future when Lute decides to retire,”” Livengood said in a press release. “”It goes without saying, but let me say it again: the University of Arizona’s appreciation for what Lute Olson has meant to our program is boundless.””

    Olson, 73, was granted an indefinite personal leave of absence on Nov. 4 and extended his leave of absence for the rest of the season on Dec. 6, but said he would return to coaching the team next year.

    O’Neill, Olson’s assistant coach from 1986-89, has said he has so much respect for Olson that he sits up straight when the Hall of Famer walks into a room and that replacing Olson was not what he thought of when he returned to Tucson.

    “”When I came back here May 1st, this was never in my thoughts,”” O’Neill said during a radio show with Brian Jefferies in the UA BookStore in the Student Union Memorial Center Tuesday afternoon. “”I didn’t know how long I’d be here or if I’d stay or whatever. It’s transpired rather quickly over a period of time, but I feel very good that Lute and Jim Livengood and our president (Robert Shelton) and our administration have the confidence in me to allow me to follow a legend.””

    Livengood called in on the radio show and also said that O’Neill taking over was not part of the original plan, but that he couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out.

    “”The amazing thing about it is that it’s an absolute win-win,”” Livengood said. “”It’s very good for Kevin, and it’s very good for Wildcat basketball at the U of A.””

    O’Neill wanted to emphasize that the announcement of the succession plan is just that: a plan.

    “”It doesn’t mean coach Olson’s retiring or not coming back,”” O’Neill said. “”It means when he decides he’s going to retire, whenever that might be – one year, two years, 10 years, whatever it’s going to be – that I would be able to take over the position as the head coach.””

    O’Neill, 50, has 11 seasons of experience as an NCAA Division I head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern, and seven seasons in the NBA, including the 2003-04 season as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors. He said he figured he’d be a head coach again at some point in his career and that he plans on coaching for the next 25-30 years.

    Olson will be paid his full salary during his leave. O’Neill said that when the time comes, he and Livengood will sit down and talk about whether O’Neill’s $375,000 contract for this season will be adjusted.

    “”Jim and I talk all the time, and I’ve found Jim and the people at this university to be the fairest people you could imagine,”” O’Neill said. “”I’m not worried about that.””

    O’Neill said his official title for the time being is uncertain as well.

    “”We’re working on the title,”” he said with a smile. “”… But I’m not worried. I’ve been called a lot worse than an interim coach, assistant coach, a coach-in-waiting.””

    Jefferies kept the mood light during the show, joking with Livengood during his call-in and asking him if O’Neill would be given his own parking space.

    “”He can have any parking space he would like,”” Livengood said with a laugh. “”That’s part of the deal I think.””

    Replied O’Neill: “”When I come, there’s nobody here. I can park wherever I want.””

    His 6:30 a.m. practice Tuesday morning was proof. O’Neill said that his commitment to the team is similar to the commitment that Olson showed over the last 24 years at Arizona.

    “”Lute and I are obviously two different people,”” O’Neill said. “”You can tell that by my good looks versus his and my bank account versus his. I think everybody has a different approach, personality and philosophy. … The basic philosophies we have aren’t that different, but we’re different people and it’s how we execute those philosophies.””

    For the team, O’Neill said that it’s business as usual for the rest of the season and added after the radio show that he wasn’t sure if the players were even aware of the succession plan.

    “”I’m happy that the players have responded as well as they have to all the situations that have surrounded them,”” he said. “”… I’ve enjoyed coaching them very much up to this point.””

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