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Lute Olson


Lute Olson

Lute Olson returns to the bench for the Arizona Wildcats this season, where he'll face one of the most challenging seasons of his long and storied career.

Getty Images / Jonathan Daniel


Lute Olson

Position :

Head Coach


Arizona Wildcats

Career Record:


Coaching Tree:

Steve Kerr (general manager, Phoenix Suns), Kevin O'Neill (Arizona, Northwestern, Toronto Raptors)

Great Players:

Sean Elliott, Gilbert Arenas, Mike Bibby, Jason Richardson, Damon Stoudamire, Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton (Arizona)

National Championships:

1997 National Champion Arizona Wildcats

Other Honors:

Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002


One of the elder statesmen of Division I hoops, Olson will be 74 years old when the 2008-09 season tips off. He got his start in coaching at the high school level, running programs at various schools in the Midwest and Southern California before moving up to the college ranks at Long Beach City College in 1973.

Olson's career really took off once he reached the college level. He spent one year at Long Beach CC and another at Long Beach State before making the leap to the Big 10's Iowa Hawkeyes in 1974. He built the Hawkeye program into a power, winning the conference title in 1979 and reaching the Final Four in 1980.

In 1983, coming off a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, Olson surprised the college basketball world by jumping to Arizona -- a team without much of a national profile in hoops. But Olson built the Wildcats into a dominant program, reaching the NCAA Tournament in every season except his first. His 1997 team, which featured Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson, won the National Championship -- and gets extra style points for knocking three number one seeds out of the tournament on the way.

Personal Life and Olson's Sabbatical

Lute and Bobbi Olson were married in 1953. Bobbi Olson was heavily involved in her husband's career -- legendarily cooking pancakes for prospects during their recruiting visits. She died of ovarian cancer in January 2001. Arizona's home court is named the "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court" in her honor.

Olson remarried in 2003, but the second marriage wasn't nearly as successful. Issues relating to his 2007 divorce caused Olson to miss the entire 2007-08 season. Assistant Kevin O'Neill took over, leading the Wildcats to their worst season since Olson's Arizona debut -- they finished with a 19-15 overall record, 8-10 in the Pac 10, and missed the NCAA Tournament cut for the first time since 1984. O'Neill will not be back as an assistant for the 2008-09 season.


Olson's tenure since re-taking the reins has been... eventful.

Brandon Jennings, an elite point guard prospect, opted to skip college and go pro in Europe, leading Olson to declare that he won't recruit one-and-dones in the future.

Olson is also under investigation for potential NCAA violations stemming from a fundraising letter sent to boosters early this summer.

Sudden Retirement

Olson never fully returned from his sabbatical. He announced his retirement on October 24, stepping aside after 25 seasons and four Final Fours with the Wildcats.
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