Legendary Arizona Wildcats Coach Lute Olson Passes Away

College basketball lost a coaching legend late Thursday evening with the passing of Lute Olson. He was 85. Olson is most remembered for his time at the University of Arizona. However, he also coached at Long Beach State and Iowa. Over 34 years of coaching, Olson compiled a record of 776-285, a .731 winning percentage.

Legendary Coach Lute Olson Passes Away

Remembering Lute Olson’s Career

Long Beach State 49ers (1973-74)

Lute Olson began his coaching career at the Division I level at Long Beach State. He spent one season there, compiling a record of 24-2. That included capturing the Pacific Coast Athletic Association’s regular-season title. The legendary coach was in his late 30s at the time, and most of his prior head coaching experience was at the high school level. After one season, the folks at Iowa liked what they saw and hired him in 1974.

Iowa Hawkeyes (1974-1983)

Olson quickly brought success to Hawkeye nation like he did at Long Beach. In two of his first three seasons, Iowa had a winning record. That contrasted starkly to the four losing seasons the program had experienced prior to his arrival. The breakthrough came in 1978-79 when he led the Hawkeyes to a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. That is still the last time Iowa has achieved at least a share of the league title. That season started a streak of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Final Four appearance in 1980, also the last such appearance for the program.

Overall, Lute Olson went 165-93 in Iowa City, and his success increased his attractiveness to other programs across the country. The time came for him to move on when Arizona came calling in 1983.

Arizona Wildcats (1983-2007)

Olson had the same goal of turning around the Arizona program like he did at Iowa. Not only did he accomplish that, he turned the Wildcats into one of the premier programs in all of college basketball. He missed the NCAA Tournament just once during his time in Tucson, and that came in his first season. He won at least 20 games in 22 of his 24 seasons at Arizona and took home 15 Pac-10 titles combined between the regular-season and tournament.

The crowning achievement of Olson’s career and time with the Wildcats came with capturing the 1997 National Championship. Arizona never won a game by more than eight points during their run, but knocked three one-seeds on their way to the title, including back-to-back during the season’s final weekend. Overall, Lute Olson took Arizona to four Final Fours, with the last one coming in 2001. He compiled a record of 587-190 during his time with the Wildcats. He battled with numerous health issues towards the end of his career, leading to his retirement.

Lute Olson’s Legacy

Olson’s career led him to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He was also inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He coached 31 players that continued their careers in the NBA, 12 of which were first-round picks. Olson also has a gold medal in his trophy case from coaching the Team USA to a championship in the 1986 FIBA Championships.

Lute Olson will always be remembered in Arizona, as the arena floor has been named in his honor there. He also has a statue outside of the arena. The Wildcats have led the Pac-12 in attendance for 37 years, beginning early in the Olson era. Furthermore, the program is still looking to find similar success since Olson’s retirement, never quite ascending back to the top of the Pac-12 consistently. Lute Olson will always remain a legend in Tucson, Arizona.

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