Lute Olson capped a bizarre year with a bizarre finish to his career.
The various reports about the Arizona basketball coach retiring were true, and it's a melancholy, ultimately unsatisfying end to a Hall of Fame career. Olson, 74, will go down as one of college hoops' greatest coaches, but I wonder how long the events of the last year will stick with him.
With any luck, it won't be long. Olson deserves better.
Steve Dipaola/Reuters file
|Lute Olson won 780 games and an NCAA tournament title during his 34-year career.
For those needing a refresher, the Tucson Citizen compiled an Olson timeline of events. It covers the exit of a longtime assistant, Olson's leave of absence and subsequent divorce, the Wildcats' struggles last season, losing the nation's top recruit and an NCAA boo-boo.
It's a tough ending for a coach who built Arizona into one of the game's premier programs.
When Dick Vitale broke the story earlier Thursday, the school wouldn't confirm the story, even though assistants were telling recruits that Reggie Geary would be taking over the program.
That prompted reactions of disbelief and indignation. (None of the players have commented yet.) The school later confirmed the retirement Thursday evening.
Chase Budinger's father, Duncan, said the reports were "disturbing" and told the Citzen that the program "did not need any more drama".
Debbie Witley, the mother of freshman center Jeff, was less delicate. She found out about Olson through a text message.
"That's how I find out?" she told the Citizen. "The mother of one of the top players. . . To find out this way is unbelievable."
She went on to say, "I feel totally betrayed. That's me personally. I have no clue how Jeffrey feels right now. He probably is just concerned with playing. He doesn't care about this stuff. But that's why we're the parents."
No reason has emerged why Olson is retiring, but the Arizona Daily Star reported Olson missed practice on Wednesday because he wasn't feeling well. Combine that 12 previous months that were stressful and speculation about Olson's retirement focuses around his health.
But maybe not. Olson's a fit 74-year-old. He announced his engagement earlier this fall and – though the timing could be better – he could just want to enjoy time away from hoops.
It creates an odd ending to his career, but not an overshadowing ending. Unlike ex-coaches like Eddie Sutton (forced out at Oklahoma State on the heels of a DUI), Clem Haskins (charges of academic fraud at Minnesota) or Dave Bliss (who sullied a murdered player's name), Olson's legacy isn't in question.
Rush the Court did an excellent analysis of Olson's accomplishments, including his regular-season and postseason successes and failures. The highlights are impressive:
- 780-280 (.736) record in 34 years
- 1 national title and 5 Final Fours
- 23 consecutive NCAA tourney appearances, 45-27 in the Big Dance
- 11 Pac-10 titles
But beyond the numbers, Olson's legacy will be secure because Arizona is likely to fall off the map as a college hoops contender. The Wildcats were the premier program west of the Mississippi during Olson's tenure.
And that's something an odd finish can't tarnish.