The University of Arizona family is mourning the passing of Hall of Fame men's basketball head coach Lute Olson, who died Aug. 27. Olson led Arizona to a national championship and was an iconic figure in college basketball and the Southern Arizona community.
A five-time national Coach of the Year and seven-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, Olson guided the Wildcats to the 1997 NCAA championship and amassed a record of 589-187 during his 24 seasons at Arizona. He also led Arizona to four NCAA Final Four appearances and 15 Pac-10 regular season and tournament titles.
Including stops as head coach at Long Beach State and the University of Iowa prior to arriving at Tucson, Olson amassed a career record as a head coach of 781-279. His 781 career wins rank 14th in NCAA Division I history and 23rd in NCAA history, regardless of division. His .737 winning percentage also ranks among the top 30 in NCAA history.
Olson came to Tucson prior to the 1983-84 season and inherited a team that had won just four games the prior year. He turned things around in a hurry, leading the Wildcats to 11 wins in his first season and taking them to the NCAA Tournament in his second year, starting a streak of advancing to the NCAA Tournament 23 straight years under his leadership. Olson also steered Arizona to 20 consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins – the fifth-longest streak in NCAA history.
He also established himself as one of the best coaches in Pac-10 history, securing 327 conference wins, which is still the most of any coach in conference history. Olson's Pac-10 conference winning percentage of .764 is second only to former UCLA great John Wooden, among coaches who coached in the Pac-10 for more than three seasons.
Under Olson, Arizona appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll 341 times out of a possible 431 polls, or 81.2% of the time. That is the fourth-best percentage in the country in that span. The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the country for 29 weeks and in the top 5 nationally for 111 weeks.
Player development was a key part of Olson's programs at Arizona, and that led to an array of student-athletes that would go on to star in the NBA. He coached 31 players who went on to play in the NBA, with 12 of those selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Olson's coaching success extended to the international stage. As head coach of Team USA, the Wildcats head coach led the United States to the gold medal in the 1986 FIBA World Championships.
Olson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and was re-inducted in 2019. He also received the Naismith Award for Outstanding Contribution to Men's College Basketball in 2013.
Olson's success on the hardwood led to a response from the Tucson community that is still felt to this day. Every year since the 1984-85 season – Olson's second at Arizona – the Wildcats have led the Pac-12 in attendance, an active streak of 37 consecutive years. The court inside McKale Memorial Center was named in Olson's honor in 2000 and officially became "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court" in 2001 to honor his wife of 47 years after she passed away.
Remembering Lute Olson
"Lute Olson was so much more than a basketball coach. He was an educator, a motivator, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend to so many. He was a true leader in every sense of the word and displayed such integrity and compassion in every endeavor. While Coach will no longer be with us, his presence will be felt for generations to come. On behalf of the University of Arizona, our community and generations of Wildcat fans, we extend our thoughts and prayers to the Olson family."
— University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, M.D.
"Since I arrived in Tucson almost 12 years ago, I have been asked hundreds of times 'What made Coach Olson so successful?' Having asked his former players, coaches and people in our community the same question, I came to a final conclusion: He had no weaknesses as a Coach.
"He was always helpful and supportive of me. I will miss seeing him at our home games and hearing our crowd yell 'LUTE.' I will miss visiting with him when he would attend our practices. I will miss his support of everything Arizona basketball.
"My family joins all of the current members of the Arizona Basketball program in sending our condolences and prayers to his wife, Kelly, and the entire Olson Family. I am forever grateful to be a part of the basketball program and community that he impacted so immensely. Coach O will certainly be missed, but always remembered by us. Bear Down."
— Arizona Head Basketball Coach Sean Miller
This story originally appeared on arizonawildcats.com.