Lute Olson stepped down as the University of Arizona men's basketball coach on Thursday, leaving a lasting legacy and some huge questions surrounding his departure.
In a press release issued by the university, Olson said only: "At this stage in my life, I want to devote my time to my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family and friends. ... It is time to pass the program on to a younger staff, to transition the university to the next generation of basketball.”
Olson's resignation comes just two days after Olson, speaking at the team's annual media day, said he was fired up about the upcoming season. "I feel much more energized at this point," Olson said.
Olson missed all of last season after taking a personal leave of absence for what he later termed "a medical condition that was not life-threatening."
He also missed a scheduled luncheon and a practice on Wednesday for health-related reasons. Assistant coach Reggie Geary, who replaced Olson at the Rotary event, told the Arizona Daily Star Olson had laryngitis.
Associate coach Mike Dunlap will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis. UA athletic director Jim Livengood said a national search will begin soon to find a permanent replacement.
The 74-year-old Hall of Fame coach exits with a record 24 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, five Final Four appearances (four with Arizona and one with Iowa), a national championship in 1997, and a career record of 780-280 at Long Beach State, Iowa and Arizona. He was 589-188 since heading to Arizona for the start of the 1983 season.
His 27 NCAA Tournament overall appearances as a coach are one behind Bob Knight for the all-time record. He also ranked second behind Mike Krzyzewski of Duke for most wins among active NCAA Division I men's coaches. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
“Lute Olson transformed the UA and Tucson into premier basketball country," UA President Robert N. Shelton said. "Arizona now stands in the company of great college basketball programs, and we have Lute to thank for that. We will sorely miss his brilliance as our head coach, but we will benefit from the legacy he leaves for decades to come.”
“We will never replace Lute Olson. But we do have to find a successor, and we have to move quickly,” Livengood said. “I intend to recruit a coach who is worthy to inherit Lute’s astounding legacy.”
When Olson returned from his leave in April, he said he planned to coach for the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2011. But that apparently changed in the past few days.
“This was not a decision that was made lightly,” Olson said in the Arizona press release. “I’ve had a wonderful run at the University of Arizona. I leave with a great sense of pride in what we have accomplished here.
“The University of Arizona will always be a basketball school. It will continue to flourish.”