Arizona coach Lute Olson retires Print
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Thursday, 23 October 2008 21:36
NCAAB Headline News


 TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -Wanted: one coaching icon.
That's what Arizona is looking for to replace Hall of Famer Lute Olson, who retired Thursday after 24 seasons with the Wildcats.
Athletic director Jim Livengood did not name a successor but said a national search would begin soon.
``We will never replace Lute Olson,'' Livengood said. ``But we do have to find a successor, and we have to move quickly. I intend to recruit a coach who is worthy to inherit Lute's astounding legacy.''
Arizona had won one conference title in the 29 seasons before Olson arrived from Iowa in 1983, and it didn't take long for him to build a powerhouse in the desert.
The 74-year-old Olson went 589-187 at Arizona, leading the Wildcats to the 1997 national championship and four Final Fours, most recently in 2001.
His program turned into an assembly line of NBA talent, producing 13 first-round draft picks, including Sean Elliott, Mike Bibby and Richard Jefferson.
Lute to thank for that,'' university president Robert N. Shelton said in a statement. ``We will sorely miss his brilliance as our head coach, but we will benefit from the legacy he leaves for decades to come.''
Livengood confirmed Olson's decision hours after news reports had started speculating about the coach's future.
``This was not a decision that was made lightly,'' Olson said in a statement released by the university. ``I've had a wonderful run at the University of Arizona. I leave with a great sense of pride in what we have accomplished here.''
The tan, silver-haired Olson is a revered figure in Tucson - as iconic as the craggy mountains that ring the city. When reports of his retirement began to spread, hordes of reporters showed up at McKale Center and remained there as athletic officials huddled behind closed doors.
ESPN's Dick Vitale first reported the story, saying Olson would be replaced by assistant coach Mike Dunlap, a former Denver Nuggets assistant and Metro State coach who joined the program in May. Dunlap ran practice on Thursday afternoon and declined to comment.
Olson's resignation ends a year of personal and professional upheaval for one of the more successful coaches in college basketball history. With 780 victories in 34 seasons as a Division I coach, Olson ranks eighth on the career list. The last victory came on March 3, 2007 - 85-80 at Stanford, in overtime.
tly before last season tipped off, Olson announced he was taking a personal leave of absence for what he later termed ``a medical condition that was not life-threatening.''
When Olson stepped away, it started an unimaginable chain of events. Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill, who took over as interim coach, was soon designated Olson's permanent successor.
O'Neill led Arizona to a 19-15 record and the school's 24th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the nation's longest active streak. But when Olson returned to the job last spring, he announced that O'Neill was no longer part of his staff and that he planned to coach for the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2011.
In December, Olson filed for divorce from wife Christine on the same day he extended his leave through the end of the season. Five months after the contentious divorce was finalized last spring, Olson announced he was engaged to Kelly Pugnea, 47, a Tucson resident for 25 years.
But Olson seemed ready to put the tumultuous year behind him. On Tuesday, he appeared at the team's media day and said he was fired up about the upcoming season. ``I feel much more energized at this point,'' he said.
Olson skipped a scheduled luncheon on Wednesday and missed practice the last two days. He did not appear at the news conference announcing his decision, nor was there any mention of his health in the statement released by the school.
``At this stage in my life, I want to devote my time to my children, great-grandchildren, family and friends,'' Olson said in the statement. ``It is time to pass the program on to a younger staff, to transition the university to the next generation of basketball.''
 

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