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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Spread the blame for UA hoops chaos

    Without Lute Olson for a second straight year, the Arizona men’s basketball team will almost surely – and at the very least – assume subordinate status to ASU, possibly for years to come.

    In the coming weeks, the UA’s entire 2009 recruiting class will almost surely jump ship to conference rivals and healthier national powerhouses. What remains could make for a rebuilding project so vast the program may well turn Mike Stoops’ football team, at five wins to seven wins a season, into the new local pride and joy.

    And it’s our fault.

    Not to let Olson off the hook – perish the thought. Whatever his true rationale for retiring Wednesday, he is a son of a bitch for the way he’s held this program hostage, particularly over the past calendar year. In that span, like a certain infamous hurricane, he has managed to bulldoze the levees built and layered over the past quarter-century, single-handedly gutting the indeterminate future of what lay within.

    How did this happen? How could the man who gave so many fans, boosters, players and other associates such a stunning run in Tucson stumble to such an awkward, ignominious exit?

    I say to those folks: Look in the mirror. Around these parts, Olson has received an insane amount of hero worship – especially during his final, pitiful seasons, in which his teams somehow made 20 wins and a postseason look mediocre.

    During that span, supporters in and around the university became complicit in this current catastrophe insofar as they refused to hold Olson – who seduced them with NCAA Tournament berths as routine as Christmas – accountable for the frankly underwhelming job he was doing. It’s expected for a prominent program to recruit fistfuls of highly touted players (Mustafa Shakur, Marcus Williams, Jawann McClellan, et al.). It’s robbery when they exit, one after the next after the next, having impacted the program very little for the better, having taken tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money that, in a reasonable world, might have helped promising students or improved academic programs.

    Over the breadth of Olson’s leave of absence last season, and especially upon his arrogance-laden return, it became abundantly clear that his reach had spread over not only a widely suckered fan base but also an athletic department apparently powerless over him. I can’t even comprehend how many times athletic director Jim Livengood – who is largely responsible for football’s past decade of ineptitude, by the way – has deferred to and defended Olson publicly when the circumstances have begged a different stance.

    Even Wednesday afternoon, with the department’s flagship program in utter shambles, Livengood thought it most appropriate to insist, “”Let us celebrate our Creator – he who giveth, and he who now taketh away.”” It was as if the mayor of Oklahoma City called a press conference to commend Timothy McVeigh for saving the community millions of dollars not spent to tear down the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

    When I first heard Olson was retiring, my first thought was, “”Finally!”” And not because I’m a closet Sun Devils fan or anything of that sadistic ilk. What I realized in that instant was that Arizona – specifically President Robert Shelton, assuming he, not Olson, still pulls the strings – now has its best opportunity to evacuate the burgeoning rot within the athletic department.

    The first step must be to fire Livengood, under whose watch (and coaching hires) the department’s top moneymakers have sunken to competitive valleys. In his place must be a regime that will not only bring in a top-flight individual to lead men’s hoops (and, please, not Kelvin Sampson) but also ensure that he can never attain the dictatorial clout Olson enjoyed to our ultimate dismay.

    Are you listening, too, Wildcat fans?


    – Tom Knauer is a former news editor and copy chief of the Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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