Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's official: Lute's Back

From the University of Arizona Athletics Press Office:

TUCSON, Ariz. — University of Arizona Athletics Director Jim Livengood today confirmed that Lute Olson would return to his position as head coach of the Wildcats basketball team at the conclusion of the current season.

Olson has been away from the program since Nov. 4, and is returning to fulfill a contract with the University that runs through 2011.

“We are delighted that Lute will be rejoining the program,” Livengood said. “He is one of the true legends of collegiate coaching, and his return is something that I know will be embraced by everyone who cares about our basketball program.”

Olson said, “I am very eager to be back doing what I love, which is coaching this team. I appreciate everyone’s support during this period and want to thank Kevin O’Neill for the great job he’s done in my absence.”

Olson noted that his leave from the team was necessitated “by a medical condition that was not life-threatening, but serious enough to require time away from my coaching responsibilities.”

“I know there has been a lot of speculation about my situation,” Olson said. “I’m glad we can clear the air, but the most important thing right now is the team. All of our effort and attention should be on these student-athletes and their efforts to advance to the NCAA Tournament.”

Livengood said O’Neill, UA’s top assistant since May 1 and the interim coach in Olson’s absence, “has handled a very difficult situation with tremendous poise, and I can’t begin to say how appreciative we are of the job he has done.”

Olson has a career record of 780-280 (.736) in 34 seasons as a collegiate head coach and 589-187 (.759) in 24 years at Arizona. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 27, 2002, and became the 16th coach in basketball history (covering all levels) to tally 1,000 career victories on Dec. 11, 2004.

During his 24-year tenure at Arizona, the Wildcats have won one national championship (1997), played in the national championship game (2001), participated in four Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997, 2001), won 11 Pac-10 Conference titles, four Pac-10 Tournament crowns (1988, ‘89, ‘90, 2002) and been to the NCAA Tournament for 23 consecutive seasons, which is the longest active and second-longest streak in NCAA history (North Carolina, 27). He also led Iowa to the 1980 Final Four.

He has the most Pac-10 wins (327) of any coach in league history and the second-best conference winning percentage (.764/327-101) and second-most league championships won (11) in Pac-10 history (minimum three years), trailing only UCLA’s John Wooden (.810/304-74/16 titles). Olson has been named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year seven times (1986, ‘88, ‘89, ‘93, ‘94, ‘98, 2003), the Big Ten Coach of the Year twice (1979 & ‘81) and directed the UA program to the nation’s third-best winning percentage over the past 20 years (519-142/.785).

In his collegiate career, Olson has produced 52 NBA Draft picks, including 31 at Arizona. He’s led UA to 20 consecutive 20-win seasons and has 29 overall in his career, making him one of only three head coaches in NCAA history to record 29 or more 20-win seasons.

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