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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Olson: O’Neill out

    Lute Olson addresses the media in person for the first time since his season-long leave of absence that started Nov. 4, yesterday in McKale Center. Olson said Kevin ONeill will not return as his assistant next season.
    Lute Olson addresses the media in person for the first time since his season-long leave of absence that started Nov. 4, yesterday in McKale Center. Olson said Kevin O’Neill will not return as his assistant next season.

    In Lute Olson’s first press conference since announcing his season-long leave of absence Nov. 4, he gave few details about his leave and was combative with local reporters yesterday in McKale Center.

    But in the 48-minute media session, which was televised live on Fox Sports Net Arizona, Olson did clarify one thing: Kevin O’Neill won’t return next season as Olson’s assistant.

    “”I said, ‘Do you want to be an assistant for three more years or five more years?’ “” Olson said of the man who was the acting head coach for the Wildcats while Olson was gone. “”He said, ‘No.'””

    UA Athletics Director Jim Livengood named O’Neill the successor to Olson on Dec. 18 but Olson said the verbal plan for O’Neill to be the next Wildcat head coach has been scratched.

    Any UA head coach has the rights to name his or her assistants, Livengood said in a phone interview yesterday.

    “”That’s obviously his decision and I’m going to continue to, as I would any employee, help Kevin do whatever Kevin wants to do in terms of his future employment,”” Livengood said.

    Olson said O’Neill’s preference would be to coach at a mid-level college basketball program or be an assistant in the pros.

    O’Neill was on vacation yesterday with his wife, Roberta, Olson said. Attempts to reach O’Neill on his cell phone were unsuccessful.

    O’Neill said at a season-end press conference last week that he planned to honor his two-year commitment to the university but he was open to other jobs in the NBA or in college, but Olson cut to the chase.

    “”He won’t be in the staff,”” Olson said. “”But if he doesn’t land a job then the university will be responsible for the second year of his contract.””

    But Livengood said all UA assistant coaches are on year-to-year contracts and the university’s two-year agreement with O’Neill wasn’t inked on paper.

    Livengood declined to comment about O’Neill’s financial situation with the university.

    “”What I’m trying to work on with him right now is terms of future employment (at the UA),”” Livengood said.

    Olson said he watched every game of the season on TV but never talked to any UA players without O’Neill’s permission, and when he did ask for permission, he talked to forward Chase Budinger and guard Jawann McClellan about their confidence during the season.

    Olson said he met with all the returning UA players March 24 and apologized to them for what they had to go through in terms of the coaching change and the change in the team’s style of play.

    “”They came here to play the wide-open game and they didn’t,”” Olson said, referring to O’Neill’s man-to-man style of play. “”And that’s no one’s fault because that’s not coach O’Neill’s belief on the offensive end and it was his team when I left.

    “”I said, ‘We’re going to play Arizona basketball and we’re going to have fun doing it.'””

    Olson said he won’t start looking for a replacement until O’Neill officially resigns.

    Olson has reportedly talked to former Phoenix Suns Coach Frank Johnson, a family friend of and workout coach for UA guard Jerryd Bayless.

    “”Three minutes after I went in to talk with Frank it was on the radio station in Phoenix,”” Olson said.

    Olson said the reason for his leave was due to stress and anxiety, presumably from his divorce from Christine Olson, and added that his personal physician, Dr. Steven D. Knope, cleared him before he announced his return to the program.

    “”I have examined Lute and cleared him to return to any and all coaching responsibilities as of March 24,”” Knope said through UA sports information director Richard Paige. “”I find him to be in excellent health.””

    Olson said he felt great and joked that the media session was doing a number on his health.

    “”This issue … has raised my blood pressure all the way up to 113 over 65 and my rested heart rate has gone from 60 to 62,”” Olson said.

    The coach, whose divorce is still pending, said there is no reconciliation with Christine and brought up a rumor that he attended a rehab facility.

    “”I’d like to know what kind of rehab facility I would go to,”” he said. “”I don’t smoke. I don’t drink, except for two glasses of wine a night, which my doctor wants me to drink for medicinal purposes.””

    The Hall-of-Fame coach said he was instructed by Livengood and senior associate athletic director Kathleen “”Rocky”” LaRose not to speak to the media during his absence because of the Family Medical Leave Act, though the act only prohibits employers from talking.

    He said the leave was in the best interest for the team.

    “”The reason that I took the leave was that I didn’t feel that I could be fair to the kids,”” Olson said. “”And despite what maybe some of (the media) think, the main thing that I have, in my 50 or 51 years (in coaching), has been the concern of the kids.

    “”Physically I could have come back in February,”” he added. “”But that would have been very disruptive to everything that had been done, so there was no way I was going to come back.””


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