WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | Sports

Olson Takes Leave, O'Neill To Coach Arizona

Arizona coach Lute Olson is taking a leave
of absence for unspecified personal reasons.
In a statement issued by his public relations firm on Sunday,
the 73-year-old Hall of Famer said the matter was not health
related.
"For the past 25 years, I have always given 110 percent to the
team and this job," Olson said. "In light of this personal
matter, I feel it is in the best interest of the team and the
University of Arizona to take a leave of absence."
Olson said he wanted to "reassure everyone that this isn't a
health scare, but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided
attention."
The specific reason was not given.
"I want to thank everyone in advance for their support and
prayers and request that the media respect my family's privacy
during this time," he said.
Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill will assume Olson's duties in his
absence.
"Lute will be back coaching our team shortly," O'Neill said
before 17th-ranked Arizona's exhibition game against Concordia of
Canada on Sunday. "He has been a great ambassador of the game. He
has led our team for 25 years, and he will continue to lead our
team for a long time."
Olson has a 780-280 record in 34 seasons as a major college
coach. In 24 years at Arizona, he is 589-187 with 23 consecutive
NCAA tournament appearances. His Wildcats have won 11 Pac-10
championships, reached the Final Four four times and won the 1997
NCAA title.
"This is a guy who cares about a lot of things, not just a guy
who caress about a round ball going through a hoop," athletic
director Jim Livengood said. "He cares about people, and he cares
about kids and everything - everything. Right now he has things he
wants to take care of. We are going to honor that."
Olson took an extended leave of absence in 2001 when his wife
Bobbie was terminally ill with cancer. He eventually returned and
led that Arizona team to the Final Four. Olson has since remarried.
"We will allow Lute this time that he needs," Livengood said.
"That time schedule has not been set. He will be the person who
will determine that. Today, we are going to move forward. Kevin
O'Neill has taken responsibility to lead our basketball team and
our basketball program."
Livengood and O'Neill met with the team on Sunday.
"Lute recruited every one of those guys," O'Neill said. "They
love him. They admire him, and they respect him, and they know what
he stands for. They handled it very well. They are concerned for
Lute personally, not how they will respond."
O'Neill, a former Olson assistant who returned to the program
this offseason, has been a head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and
Northwestern. He said he expected to talk with Olson regularly.
"I feel bad for the players and for the community," O'Neill
said. "Let's face it, we deserve every bit of Lute that we can
get. I came here to coach with Lute and coach at the University of
Arizona. I love this city and I love Lute. I thought it was the
right thing to do. It is not how I feel about how I feel or what is
going on with me.
"My main concern is Lute and (his wife) Christine and the
players. That is where my focus will be."
Arizona opens its regular season Nov. 13 at home against
Northern Arizona.


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