Arizona basketball coaching legend Lute Olson dies at 85
Hall of Famer and former Arizona men’s basketball head coach Lute Olson has died at the age of 85.
The Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen reported Tuesday that Olson was in a fight for his life before Stadium’s Jeff Goodman and KOLD’s Dan Marries confirmed that Olson had passed away on Thursday.
The school later officially announced the news.
“Lute Olson was so much more than a basketball coach,” said University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins. “He was an educator, a motivator, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend to so many. 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. On behalf of the University of Arizona, our community and generations of Wildcat fans, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the Olson family.”
Olson was the head coach of Arizona’s men’s basketball program for 25 years, taking the job in 1983 before retiring in 2008. He is largely credited with establishing the Wildcats as one of the sports’ predominant forces on the West Coast, posting a record of 589-187 over nearly three decades.
Prior to Olson’s debut season, the Wildcats finished the 1982-83 season with four wins and 24 losses. After a debut 11-17 record in his first year, Olson’s Arizona teams went on to make the NCAA Tournament for 24 straight seasons, finishing with single-digit losses in 20 of those 24 campaigns.
Under Olson, Arizona won a regular season conference championship 11 times, four postseason conference tournaments and made the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament on four different occasions.
That includes the 1997 NCAA Tournament that the Wildcats won.
The program gained notoriety as well for developing NBA-caliber talent and helping them transition into success at the next level, with notable names such as Mike Bibby, Gilbert Arenas, Jason Terry, Sean Elliott, Andre Iguodala and Richard Jefferson.
Arizona was Olson’s last coaching stop after spending over 10 years coaching at the high school level until moving to Long Beach Community College in 1969. After going to Long Beach State for just one year in 1973 and going 24-2, Olson took the head coaching job at Iowa, where he went 167-91 from 1974-1983.
Olson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year seven different times.