Legendary former Arizona coach Lute Olson, who made the Wildcats a national powerhouse, dies at 85

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The greatest coach in the history of basketball in Arizona has passed away. Lute Olson, the man who guided the University of Arizona to an unlikely 1997 NCAA Championship, died Thursday at the age of 85, according to the university. Olson, who suffered a minor stroke in 2019, has been in poor health in recent months.

Inducted into the 2002 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Olson retired from coaching in October 2008 with a career record of 781-281. His 589 victories with the U of A made him the most successful coach in school history, an honor he also held in the mid-1980s with Iowa basketball when ‘He surprised many by leaving his burgeoning Hawkeyes for an underdog Wildcats program. But that decision ended up turning Olson into a college basketball legend.

The silver-haired scholar led Arizona to four Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997, 2001) and seven Elite Eights. He guided the Wildcats to 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments, an NCAA coaching and school record broken recently by the greatest coach in college basketball history, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.

His 781 wins are 14th on the all-time list for Division I men’s basketball. Olson turned the Wildcats into a powerhouse, turning his program into one of the sport’s 10 biggest and most successful during the most of its tenure. One of the enduring images that came with the 1997 title is CBS capturing one of Olson’s players, Bennett Davison, breaking his hair while upsetting No.1 Kentucky to give the team their first and only national championship. . Arizona made history that year as the first team – and still the only one – to defeat three No.1 seeds in a single NCAA tournament.

This 1997 title was all the more memorable and surprising given Arizona’s reputation in the NCAA tournament prior to this year. Olson frequently had teams ranked No.1, 2 or 3, but often found himself the victim of a knockdown in the first or second round. In a year when Arizona was seen as just good enough, but nothing special, Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, and Jason Terry helped Olson and the Wildcats achieve college basketball immortality. Arizona toppled Kansas (arguably the best team in the sport this season), North Carolina and defending champion Kentucky on their way to win it all. He also needed overtime to beat Providence in the Top Eight.

Arizona defeated Kentucky 84-79 in overtime, without a basket in the bonus session, the only time in Final Four history. That victory in Arizona 23 years ago is the most recent national championship for a Pac-12 team.

Olson has won 46 games in 28 NCAA tournaments. He is one of 14 male coaches who brought two different schools to the Final Four. Olson coached Arizona for the last 24 seasons of his career. He’s won 11 Pac-10 conference championships, and in his last 20 seasons, according to the University of Arizona, Olson had third best winning percentage of all coaches in men’s college basketball.

Olson won 327 games in what was then known as Pac-10; his win total remains the highest in conference history. The only coach in the league with a better winning percentage than Olson was a man named John Wooden.

Robert Luther Olson was born on a farm on September 22, 1934 in Mayville, North Dakota. Olson lost his father to a stroke at the age of 5, an illness that would partly force the end of his coaching career more than 65 years later. As a teenager, Olson was a great athlete. He won a state basketball title for his high school in North Dakota, then distinguished himself in football, basketball, and baseball at Augsburg College in Minneapolis in the mid-1950s.

Olson coached high school basketball for 11 years in his twenties and thirties before moving on to college and eventually to the rank of DI. According to the University of Arizona, Olson was on the bench for 1,063 wins during his career as a head coach, dating back to his first gig with Mahnomen High School in Minnesota in 1956 and including his time as coach in college before working the sidelines for his first. year of DI service with Long Beach State in 1973.

Arizona wooed Olson in 1983 after the 49-year-old made Iowa a nationally relevant program by taking the Hawkeyes to five consecutive NCAA tournaments, including the 1980 Final Four, at a time when the tournament consisted of far fewer schools than the 64/68 team format which made it the March Madness monolith that it is known as today. Olson inherited an Arizona team after a 4-24 season. Two years later he would win 21 games, and five years later Olson had the Wildcats in the Final Four for the first time in school history, led by players Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Tom Tolbert, Anthony Cook and Jud Buechler – all of whom would continue to play in the NBA.

Olson coached eight All-Americans by consensus and produced 34 NBA picks in 24 seasons in Arizona. There is still one player in the NBA who was recruited and coached by Olson: Andre Iguodala of the Miami Heat.

In 2009-10, college basketball launched the Lute Olson Award. It is awarded annually to the best player who has been in his school for at least two full seasons. The two most recent recipients were Ja Morant of Murray State and Payton Pritchard of Oregon.

Olson left his post in 2007 due to health problems before resigning permanently in the fall of 2008. His tenure ended in schisms and bumpy behavior, as Olson unknowingly suffered a stroke that his doctor would later declare led to depression and irregularities. behaviour. After planning to resume his duties for the 2008-09 season, Olson retired less than a month before the start of the season.

The less than graceful end of Olson’s time with Arizona hasn’t affected his standing in the community or with Arizona fans. He remained loved there and in Iowa until the end of his days. Getting the job in Arizona in 1983 ultimately meant Olson would move to Tucson, Arizona, for life; he lived there for 12 years after his retirement. Olson was an occasional sight to see at the Arizona games until 2018. That same year, the school unveiled a statue of Olson outside the McKale Center.

Fifteen years earlier, in 2003, the school had appointed the McKale Center court for Lute and his late wife, Bobbi, who died of ovarian cancer in 2001. Olson met Roberta “Bobbi” Russell in high school and By the time Olson was booming in Arizona, the two were among the most important and beloved married couples in college basketball.

Olson is survived by his third wife, Kelly, five children (Vicki, Jody, Christi, Greg and Steve) and 14 grandchildren. His coaching legacy continues through his granddaughter, Julie Hairgrove, who is an assistant with the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, and his grandson, Matt Brase, an assistant with the Houston Rockets.

Lute Olson from year to year

Season School W L Post season
1973-74 Long Beach State 24 2
1974-75 Iowa dix 16
1975-76 Iowa 19 dix
1976-77 Iowa 20 7
1977-78 Iowa 12 15
1978-79 Iowa 20 8 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1979-80 Iowa 23 dix NCAA Tournament – Final Four
1980-81 Iowa 21 7 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1981-82 Iowa 21 8 NCAA Tournament – Second Round
1982-83 Iowa 22 9 NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16
1983-84 Arizona 11 17
1984-85 Arizona 21 dix NCAA Tournament – First Round
1985-86 Arizona 23 9 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1986-87 Arizona 18 12 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1987-88 Arizona 35 3 NCAA Tournament – Final Four
1988-89 Arizona 29 4 NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16
1989-90 Arizona 25 7 NCAA Tournament – Second Round
1990-91 Arizona 28 7 NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16
1991-92 Arizona 24 7 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1992-1993 Arizona 24 4 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1993-94 Arizona 29 6 NCAA Tournament – Final Four
1994-1995 Arizona 24 7 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1995-96 Arizona 27 6 NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16
1996-1997 Arizona 25 9 NCAA Tournament – Champion
1997-98 Arizona 30 5 Tournoi NCAA – Elite Eight
1998-99 Arizona 22 6 NCAA Tournament – First Round
1999-2000 Arizona 27 7 NCAA Tournament – Second Round
2000-01 Arizona 25 6 NCAA Tournament – Championship Game
2001-02 Arizona 24 dix NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16
2002-03 Arizona 28 4 Tournoi NCAA – Elite Eight
2003-04 Arizona 20 dix NCAA Tournament – First Round
2004-05 Arizona 30 7 Tournoi NCAA – Elite Eight
2005-06 Arizona 20 13 NCAA Tournament – Second Round
2006-07 Arizona 20 11 NCAA Tournament – First Round
TOTAL 781 279

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