Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson passed away on Thursday at the age of 85. Olson won 780 games as the head coach at Arizona, Iowa and Long Beach State and led the Wildcats to NCAA National Championship glory in 1997.
Perhaps best remembered for his 24 years in Tuscon, Olson got his start in Southern California coaching at Long Beach CC. He moved up to Long Beach State in 1973, going an impressive 24-2 and winning the PCAA title in his lone season with the 49ers. The next stop was Iowa City, where he won 167 games over nine seasons with the Hawkeyes. Turned the mediocre Iowa basketball program into a consistent NCAA team, going to the Big Dance in each of his last five seasons there and winning the Big Ten championship in 1979 (still the school’s most recent conference crown).
After reaching the Sweet Sixteen (his second in four years) in 1983, Olson headed back out West to take over at Arizona. It was during his tenure with the Wildcats, in which we won 589 games, 11x Pac-10 titles and went to 22x NCAA Tournaments, that he cemented his legacy as one of college basketball’s all-time great coaches. Recruiting and molding a number of NBA players, including Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Richard Jefferson, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas and Andre Iguodala (and that is just skimming the surface), Olson turned Arizona into a certified powerhouse.
“He was an educator, a motivator, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend to so many,” University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins said in a statement on Thursday. “He was a true leader in every sense of the word and displayed such integrity and compassion in every endeavor. While Coach will no longer be with us, his presence will be felt for generations to come.”
Current Wildcat head coach Sean Miller had this to say: “He was more than a coach to all of his players. The family atmosphere he created for each of them might be the most impressive accomplishment of his time. To this day, there is a connection and closeness between generations of Arizona players that will last forever. He was a leader in our community and gave his time and resources for more than three decades. The love affair that he created between Tucson and our basketball program has resulted in the unmatched fanbase and the home court atmosphere that we feel inside the McKale Center today.”
Olson’s career accomplishments were recognized in 2002 – while he was still at Arizona – with his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Four years later, Olson was part of the inaugural class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
credit to Arizona Athletics for the image