Lute Olson, the all-time winningest coach in Arizona men’s basketball history, died on Thursday, the school announced. He was 85.
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.
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
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....— Tom Tolbert (@byronjr23) August 28, 2020
RIP Lute...I love you
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
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