Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Posts Tagged ‘Lute Olson’

Olson Tainting His Own Legacy

Posted by Zach on October 24, 2008

It’s a difficult task to question Lute Olson’s accomplishments during his coaching career at Arizona. A national title, numerous lottery picks, Sweet 16’s and Pac-10 titles galore. Trophies, pennants and shiny awards nobody in Tuscon could have ever dreamed of when Olson arrived from Iowa City in the mid-80s. Olson belongs in the conversation with Hall-of-Famers like Coach K, Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino, Knight, Williams and Izzo in the discussion over the best NCAA basketball coach of the last 20 years. Nobody is denying that. Nobody is trying to deface his proud accomplishments.

Yet it’s hard to sit back and accept this next bizarre chapter in Lute Olson’s strange exit from Arizona as just another legend passing the torch. Much like other coaching greats who have departed under shady circumstances, namely Bob Knight (more than once) and Eddie Sutton, Olson seemingly leaves his program in a state of turmoil. His exit proved less than graceful. His decisions over the last two years have hurt the Arizona program rather than kept it on the winning track.

A brief timeline: Olson stunningly steps down as Arizona head coach prior to last season and names Kevin O’Neill his successor without guaranteeing a return, Olson announces prior to the Pac-10 Tournament that he will return to the sidelines next year, prompting an enormous distraction, O’Neill then angrily departs for the Grizzlies and his entire coaching staff needs to be replaced, Chase Budinger is convinced Olson is now in good health and decides to return because he wants to play for Lute another season, Olson ducks out of practice Monday, remarking he is “just sick,” ESPN learns mid-Thursday that Olson has retired without the players and prominent administration ever hearing of such news.

Now Arizona is left with an interim coach in Russ Pennell who most recently was an AAU coach in Phoenix and formerly worked for the Arizona State coaching staff before being let go. Quite a resume to be leading the Arizona Wildcats. Meanwhile, assistant Mike Dunlap, who was originally reported to be taking over for Olson, turned down the job because he wanted long-term security while Arizona looks to go after Gonzaga coach Mark Few or Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon. I have a hard time believing either of them will leave comfortable situations for what could end up being the next Indiana sans the major violations.

Rather than exiting gracefully from Tuscon with his head held high and the program in workable shape, Olson takes off with Arizona under a coach with no experience, a team completely confused and angry over their coach suddenly deciding to retire, and two top-50 recruits in Abdul Gaddy and Solomon Hill who will likely de-commit and look elsewhere. If Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill depart for the NBA early like we all expect next June, this program could be headed for a spell of turmoil and irrelevance.

Surely, Olson dealt with difficult family and health ordeals over the last 12-24 months. Leaving the Arizona program under the tutelege of O’Neill may not have gone over well with many Wildcat fans, but as long as Olson got his well-being taken care of in time for 2008-09, the problem would be solved. Now, with practice just beginning and Arizona looking to return to prominence in the Pac-10, their legendary coach, one that promised to return this season and lead the march to glory, has ducked out, replaced by an AAU coach from Phoenix and fired Arizona State assistant. If an Arizona fan is looking for the nearest bridge, I don’t necessarily blame them.

In an age where athletes and coaching legends just cannot quit, Olson has quit in the worst way possible. No private meeting telling his players the news and giving specifics on why he’s leaving, instead a leaked news report and word of recruits’ fathers receiving word prior to Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. No organized departure this summer before practice and leaving the program plenty of time to recover for this season, just a stunning and sudden retirement with three weeks remaining before the season begins.

Whether or not Lute Olson accomplished the unthinkable at Arizona during his illustrious term at head coach, nobody can deny the last two tumultious years of his tenure have been more problematic than graceful.

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Report: Lute Olson Steps Down

Posted by Zach on October 23, 2008

The coaching turmoil continues down in Tuscon.

Just months after interim coach Kevin O’Neill took off and weeks after longtime coach Lute Olson remarked that he was “excited to get on the court,” reports from ESPN.com and a source close to Dick Vitale have told him Olson has stepped down and will not coach the Arizona Wildcats this season. This seems to be confirmed by a report in the Arizona Daily Star that the fathers of two prized class of 2009 Arizona recruits, Abdul Gaddy and Solomon Hill, have received the news of Olson stepping down. Hill’s father says blatantly that he was told it’s “official” and “Lute is out.”

On the other hand, Arizona spokesperson Tom Duddleston said Thursday morning he has not been informed of the Olson resignation and he was even told “no way” by other working at the school regarding the report. Reporters contend they felt Olson was completely in good spirits coaching the team Monday, but fell ill on Wednesday and was forced to miss practice. Those close to the program insist he was “just sick” and it was nothing to be overly concerned about.

If the report is true, Arizona assistant coach Mike Dunlap would take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis. Obviously, it’s much too early to speculate on the status of both Gaddy and Hill, whom the Arizona program are likely reaching out to at this point in hopes of keeping them on board. Olson, 74, took a leave of absence last season and was expected to return to the bench this year in full strength for the entire season.

This entire operation has been botched. How do two fathers of Arizona recruits know the news, ESPN gets a gift-wrapped scoop on the news….yet prominent players like Jordan Hill and some administration have no idea where this story is coming from. It would have been wise to hold a team meeting this morning to alert the Wildcats and let the entire staff know before this leaked out (I know, easier said than done) rather than have members of the team “not knowing a damn thing” and spending the entire day thinking Lute Olson was their coach when I heard the news around 11:30 AM central time.

If Olson has officially retired, his finished resume is quite impressive: 1997 National Title, 781-280 record, 5 Final Fours, 23 consecutive NCAA appearances, 11 Pac-10 titles. Not to mention turning around an Arizona program that was a complete afterthought before he arrived in the mid-80s. He’s recruited and coached such household names as Mike Bibby, Damon Stoudamire, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Steve Kerr. Even at his old age, he was able to lure Brandon Jennings to Arizona, whom many believed was the best guard in the class of 2008.

UPDATE: Scavening around the series of tubes for more Olson news and reactions. The most interesting summation came from Rush the Court, who showed that Olson, well, may be a tad overrated, at least in terms of NCAA Tournament accomplishments. In fact, most of the time he underachieved.

Here’s the article:

As stated above, Arizona has gone to five Final Fours under Lute Olson.  Here are the NCAA Tournament seeds for those years – #5, #1, #2, #4, #2 (avg. = 2.8).  Arizona also received five #1 seeds during Olson’s tenure.  Here’s the result for those five Tourneys – F4, S16, E8, R32, E8 (avg. = 2.6 games won).  When Lute was expected to go to the F4, he went once; when he was not expected to go, he went four other times.  This quick examination of the numbers confirms what we wrote last year when we surveyed the top overachieving and underachieving programs of the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament.  From 1985-2007, Arizona averaged a #4.1 seed in the NCAAs.  The historical model suggests that Arizona should have won 44.1 NCAA contests over this period – the Cats won 39, which means they ‘underachieved’ by nearly five Ws, and therefore puts UA in terms of performance in the bottom third of schools with greater than eight appearances over the era.  The most obvious examples of this phenomenon were first-round upsets in 1992 (#3 UA loses to #14 ETSU), 1993 (#2 UA loses to #15 Santa Clara), and 1999 (#4 UA loses to #13 Oklahoma).  Even Olson’s most talented and decorated team, the 1998 #1 Wildcats led by Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, had a major letdown in the E8 against #3 Utah, getting run out of the gym by 25 points.

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