Arizona coaching legend Lute Olson dies at 85
Lute Olson, the all-time winningest coach in Arizona men’s basketball history, died on Thursday, the school announced. He was 85.
Wildcat. Legend. Icon. Lute.
Coach Olson - We are forever indebted to you for what you did for our program, university and community. #BearDown pic.twitter.com/aj9rAbAn6y
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) August 28, 2020
Olson had been previously reported to be in poor health earlier this week. He had also been hospitalized in Feb. 2019 after suffering a stroke.
With his death came tribute after tribute from both members and rivals of the program he essentially built from scratch.
Lute Olson is Arizona basketball
Olson began his coaching career in the high school ranks, eventually reaching the college level at Long Beach City College in 1969. He went onto coaching at Long Beach State University and Iowa before landing at Arizona.
While Arizona is known as a traditional power in the Pac-12 today, that was not the case when Olson arrived. The man took a massive gamble with his move West, going from a Hawkeyes program with five straight NCAA Tournament appearances to Arizona, which had three appearances in its entire history. In the season before his arrival, Arizona had won just four games. The terms of his first agreement to coach the team: one year, $64,000.
Olson built a perennial NCAA tournament contender in Tucson from the ground up. Arizona would reach the tournament 23 times straight under the North Dakota native, winning the school’s first championship in 1997.
Olson retired in 2008 after his first stroke, calling it a career with that 1997 title, four Final Fours, 11 Pac-10 regular season titles and a 587-190 record with the Wildcats. He also took Iowa to the Final Four in 1980. His 781 career wins ranks 14th all-time among Division I men’s basketball coaches.
Arizona players remember Lute Olson
Among the players Olson coached at Arizona were Steve Kerr, Jason Terry, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. All of them and more posted tributes to their departed coach after news broke of his death:
It’s hard to put into words how much Lute Olson meant to me.He was an amazing coach & a wonderful man. Being part of the U of A basketball family changed my life forever.I will never forget Coach O, those awesome nights at McKale and all my teammates. Thank you Coach- I love you! pic.twitter.com/GUvtSFr9Lm
— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr) August 28, 2020
It’s rare that a man is a Hall of famer and still under appreciated. I’ll always feel like you never got the credit you deserved as a leader, family man, grandfather, coach and as a mentor. I love you Coach O 🐻⬇️
— Richard Jefferson (@Rjeff24) August 28, 2020
With out you there would be no me Rest peacefully #CoachO #BearDown pic.twitter.com/XUTQwuJqNk
— Jason "The Jet" Terry (@jasonterry31) August 28, 2020
I told Denny Crum I was coming to Louisville. Midnight Lute called. We talked for 3 hrs! He Changed my mind, then changed my life! Never truly in my eyes got the credit he deserved. It’s okay though! Love you Papa Lute!! 🙏🏽🙏🏽
— Damon Stoudamire (@Iambiggie503) August 28, 2020
I'm saddened to here of the passing of my former Arizona Wildcats coach and friend Lute Olson....He was a great and honorable man..He built an incredible program and helped mold some pretty incredible men....
RIP Lute...I love you
— Tom Tolbert (@byronjr23) August 28, 2020
Thank you coach for taking a chance on some skinny kid from Chandler,Az. I owe my whole basketball career to you and what you taught me. I’m gonna miss you. pic.twitter.com/yRIBVKM137
— Channing Frye (@channingfrye) August 28, 2020
More from Yahoo Sports:
Haynes: Inside the tense NBA players meeting to decide future
Goodwill: America got a taste of its own medicine from the Bucks
Manza Young: Don't expect a show from NBA if humanity is overlooked
Sports protest expert says players shouldn't walk out on season