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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Adjusting on the fly

    UA athletic director Jim Livengood addresses a horde of media outside of McKale Center on Thursday to announce the retirement of Hall of Fame mens basketball coach Lute Olson. Russ Pennell will be the Wildcats interim head coach.
    UA athletic director Jim Livengood addresses a horde of media outside of McKale Center on Thursday to announce the retirement of Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Lute Olson. Russ Pennell will be the Wildcats’ interim head coach.

    UA athletic director Jim Livengood didn’t plan on waking up to a flat car tire Friday, but he did.

    Russ Pennell didn’t expect to arrive in McKale Center the same morning and be offered a spot as the Arizona men’s basketball interim head coach, but he was.

    The day after legendary coach Lute Olson called it quits after a quarter-century, UA President Robert Shelton and Livengood had to quickly come up with a plan of attack to address the media and determine a replacement for Olson – at least for the meantime.

    Between the time that Livengood officially announced Olson’s retirement at 5 p.m. Thursday and the end of Saturday’s Homecoming football game, many measures were taken to thank Olson for his services with the Wildcats. Signs and banners were hung around campus, a brief montage of Olson’s accomplishments were played on the video board at the football game and navy T-shirts – with a white-colored sketch of Olson’s face with the word “”Thanks!”” in block text underneath – were sold outside of Arizona Stadium following the game.

    “”This was the time to end his coaching career, if you will, and that’s his decision and we’re certainly honoring that decision,”” Livengood said Friday.

    When Pennell entered McKale Center on Friday morning, he was approached by Livengood about being the team’s interim head coach. After Pennell “”swallowed really hard,”” he accepted the position.

    He and Livengood addressed the media at 2 p.m. in McKale Center. Pennell said he had 64 unanswered text messages and 27 voicemails to check at the time of the press conference.

    Before Pennell was approached, however, Livengood talked to associate head coach Mike Dunlap, who “”made it very clear what he wanted to do was be the associate head basketball coach,”” Livengood said.

    Assistant coach Reggie Geary was not part of the process, Livengood said.

    The circus full of mystery began at about 9 a.m. Thursday when ESPN analyst Dick Vitale reported Olson was retiring. Pennell found out about the retirement the same way most everyone else in the nation found out, but with a little help from Matt Brase, Olson’s grandson and the Wildcats’ video and recruiting coordinator and administrative assistant.

    “”We were in a staff meeting, preparing for practice and Matt Brase ran in and said, ‘It’s on the ESPN ticker: Coach Olson’s leaving.’ And honestly, we were like, ‘OK,'”” Pennell said, taking opening his eyes wide and inhaling deeply. “”… Then it was damage control.””

    Livengood said he found out the same way, when someone came into his office to tell him the same news.

    “”These things don’t just happen,”” Livengood said. “”They’re not in a nice package, neatly wrapped. It would be so nice if they were. It would be good for (the media) and believe me, it would be good for us. Did we know about this for some time? No.””

    Livengood said he did have “”an indication”” that something was wrong on Wednesday, when he got a call from Olson. The head coach talked to Livengood “”just in terms of, ‘Hey, we need to visit,’ but that’s it,”” Livengood said. “”Nothing more.””

    Livengood didn’t confirm with Olson his retiring until moments before 5 p.m. Thursday, when Livengood briefly addressed the media, a statement that was televised live on ESPNews.

    In a perfect world, no information would have been prematurely released Thursday, Livengood said.

    “”And we probably would have been able to be in control in regards to the actual process in terms of (how) one goes through retirement,”” Livengood said.

    Livengood and Pennell both addressed the players on Friday. Though they were most certainly in a state of shock, the team will be able to bounce back, Livengood said.

    “”They’re good. They’re resilient,”” Livengood said. “”But they’re hurting right now. They’re hurting big time right now. And that’s where we’re lucky to have Russ, we’re lucky to have Mike and we’re lucky, certainly, to have Reggie.””

    Livengood had the opportunity to watch Olson for nearly his entire career with the Wildcats, for eight years with Washington State and Southern Illinois and for nearly 15 years at Arizona. He said Olson’s retirement would be as emotional for everyone as it was, but the timing could not have been predicted.

    “”This day, we all knew. Many of us didn’t want it to happen, when it did, how it did,”” Livengood said. “”However, those kinds of things, that’s for somebody else to decide. But yes, we knew it was going to happen.””

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