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Wildcat's Olson takes leave of absence
Olson takes leave of absence
By: Michael Schwartz
Issue date: 11/5/07 Section: News
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Media Credit: Jake Lacey
UA men's basketball head head coach Lute Olson, left, sits with assistant coach Kevin O'Neill at the Red-Blue scrimmage Oct. 30 in McKale Center. O'Neill will take over head coaching duties for Olson, who will take an indefinite leave of absence from the team to tend to personal matters.
When Jawann McClellan's phone rang around 7:30 yesterday morning with the message to meet in the locker room in 45 minutes, the UA senior guard thought something had happened to one of his teammates.
After rushing to McKale Center, McClellan dropped his head when UA athletics director Jim Livengood and assistant coach Kevin O'Neill announced the news concerning head coach Lute Olson.
McClellan, who described himself as the closest player on the team to Olson, learned that Arizona's head coach of 25 years had requested a leave of absence for personal reasons, effective
"I'm very concerned about him, for his family, but he has to handle his issues, and we've got to win ball games," McClellan said. "He's OK, thank God."
O'Neill will take over for Olson as the interim head coach. No timetable has been set for Olson's return, but O'Neill said it would not make any sense to adjust responsibilities on the staff among other assistants because he expects Olson back soon.
"For the past 25 years, I have always given 110 percent to the team and this job," Olson said in a statement. "In light of this personal matter, I feel it's in the best interests of the team and university to take a leave of absence.
"It isn't a health scare but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention."
Both Livengood and O'Neill stressed a number of times that Olson's privacy must be respected, but the the athletic director confirmed that the issue is not related to the health of the 73-year-old Olson.
"Where we In light of this personal matter, I feel it's in the best interests of the team and university to take a leave of absence. It isn't a health scare but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention.
men's basketball head coach
are right now at this moment is trying to do anything and everything we can to allow Lute this time that he needs," Livengood said. "We're going to get through this and then move on."
Olson approached Livengood after Saturday's Homecoming football game against UCLA about his need for a leave of absence. Livengood informed UA President Robert Shelton and talked a number of times with Olson and O'Neill in the hours leading up to yesterday's 12:30 p.m. press conference.
Livengood said all involved parties agreed with what he told Olson during their original conversation: "Coach, whatever you need is what we're going to do. Whatever's in your best interests, we're going to do."
After Livengood and O'Neill addressed the team before yesterday's shootaround, they both felt the players expressed genuine concern for Olson - the coach who recruited them all - but no concern for how they'll respond.
"Young and dumb is a good thing to be sometimes," O'Neill said, "and these guys really want to play basketball and want to get things going. But they're very, very concerned for Coach."
O'Neill will take over the day-to-day operations of running the Wildcats and leading their staff but stressed it's still Olson's program, and that he will likely talk with the head coach often.
O'Neill described himself as just an assistant coach taking over until the head coach returns, so it will be important for Olson to keep his pulse on the team.
"When we Young and dumb is a good thing to be sometimes and these guys really want to play basketball and want to get things going, but they're very, very concerned for Coach.
interim head coach
go out there today, I guess you could say I'm coaching the team, because that's what Lute requested I do," O'Neill said before Arizona's exhibition game against Concordia yesterday. "He is the head coach, this will be his 25th year, and next year will be his 26th year. So that's the way I'm approaching the whole thing."
Since working for three years as a UA assistant under Olson from 1986-1989 - when Arizona compiled a 82-19 record and reached its first Final Four - O'Neill's coaching résumé includes a year as the Toronto Raptors' head coach, five seasons as an NBA assistant and head coaching jobs in the college ranks at Northwestern, Tennessee and Marquette.
"We don't even look at him as an interim head coach because he's been a head coach at every level," McClellan said of O'Neill.
O'Neill returned to Arizona this season in place of 18-year UA assistant Jim Rosborough as an unofficial defensive coordinator, with defense being an O'Neill strength and a weakness for the Wildcats last year.
Due to the assistant's abundance of head coaching experience, Olson told Livengood, "If there was ever a time to coerce Kevin back into Wildcat basketball and back into Tucson, it surely is right now," in light of Olson's need for a leave of absence.
Olson has only once previously taken time away from the program, when he took time to grieve the death of his first wife, Bobbi, during the 2000-2001 season. Rosborough led the Wildcats to a 3-2 record during that span.
As Olson attends to his personal matters, O'Neill will sit in the seat Olson has occupied for the past 24 years, in which time he has led the Wildcats to 23 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 Pacific 10 Conference titles, four Final Fours and the 1997 national championship.
"You can't replace greatness," O'Neill said. "You can only hope to try to fill in, and that's what we're going to all try to do and keep this thing together."
I sure hope he is able to get things taken care of quickly! I love his work with this team and I've been a fan and follower since I can remember!
Thoughts and prayers to you and your family, Lute!!