Lute Olson to Basketball Hall of Fame

Former Iowa Basketball Coach, Lute Olson, is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Take a trip down memory lane and read Ron Maly's column about Lute! Lute! Lute!

First, let's do the addition.

Lute Olson has coached Arizona's basketball team for 19 seasons.

He has won 471 games and lost 143.

That means he's coached the Wildcats in 614 games since his nine seasons at Iowa produced a 167-91 record.

So, I'm sitting here wondering why – after 19 seasons and 614 games at Arizona – a guy from the Tucson paper is calling me to ask for my thoughts about Olson.

What else could I tell the guy about Olson that he doesn't already know? He's already been in Iowa City and read the stories I wrote about Olson that are still in sports information director Phil Haddy's files.

He already knows that Olson and I had our share of differences. It was what I'd call an occasionally-stormy relationship between a major-college coach and a sportswriter who sometimes didn't see eye-to-eye on what constituted a good newspaper story.

Olson thought he was right. I thought I was right. It wasn't unlike the relationship a lot of coaches have with a lot of sportswriters in a lot of other places.

You know and I know that Bobby Knight isn't the easiest guy for a sportswriter to get along with. The same with the late Woody Hayes when he coached the football teams at Ohio State. The same with Bo Schembechler when he coached at Michigan.

It worked out – fittingly, I might add -- that I showed up at the press conference on the Arizona campus in Tucson when Olson was introduced as the Wildcats' coach on March 29, 1983.

I was vacationing in Phoenix when someone tipped me off that Olson was going to get the job. So I called my boss and told him I thought I should be at the press conference. So did he.

There weren't many basketball stories I'd interrupt my vacation for, but that was one of them.

Lute didn't seem surprised when I began asking him questions at the press conference. It was just like old times.

When he called me the other night, the Tucson guy already knew that Iowans believe that a major reason Olson left the Iowa coaching job was because he thought he existed in a "fishbowl'' atmosphere in Iowa City after he began experiencing some success.

The Tucson guy talked to a lot of people in Iowa City who told him that.

Before we go any further, let me say that I think Olson and I get along much better now than we did 20 years ago. But, naturally, we don't talk as much to each other as we once did. No reason to. That probably helps.

Let me also say that I feel he's an even better recruiter and coach at Arizona than he was at Iowa. He took the Wildcats to the 1997 NCAA championship. Now, at 68, I think he's still at the top of his game.

The team he coaches in the upcoming season will be one of the best in the nation. It could win the national championship.

"We're loaded,'' said Jim Rosborough, Olson's longtime assistant at both Iowa and Arizona. "I've never seen anything like our 10-deep. We'll be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the preseason polls.''

The guy from Tucson told me he was writing a bunch of stories about Olson that would go into a special section prior to when Olson is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.

Olson won't be on the scene in Springfield, Mass., when he's honored. Rosborough explained that his boss would instead be in Italy preparing for the wedding of his 42-year-old son, Steve.

"Lute is going to do some live TV hookups with the Hall of Fame ceremonies from Italy,'' Rosborough explained. "Steve's wedding is Saturday. He lives in California and is a chef of some renown. He's kind of a private chef for a movie actor whose name I can't think of.

"Steve and his wife have some idea of maybe opening a restaurant in an Italian resort town.''

Rosborough said he and Jim Livengood, Arizona's athletic director, and their wives, will represent the school at the Hall of Fame ceremonies.

"It is certainly a special honor to be elected to the Hall of Fame,'' Olson said after being told of the honor. "But I question there are few prouder moments as a father than the wedding of your children.

"I'm excited about both events, and although it is impossible for me to be in both places, I am glad there is a way I can be involved with each.''

Rosborough said he doesn't know how long Olson will continue to coach.

Obviously, the clock is ticking. "People out there are using that against us in recruiting,'' Rosborough said, referring to recruiters from other schools who know Olson's age. If you don't think "negative recruiting'' is used at the college level, guess again.

The recruiters tell prospects that, because a guy like Olson is in an upper-age bracket, they likely won't be able to finish their collegiate careers under him. But, let's face it, in basketball that doesn't mean much these days. Many players who enjoy standout seasons early in their careers make themselves eligible for the NBA draft.

"Lute's health is good and he still likes the challenge of getting a team ready,'' Rosborough said. "He also has a staff that helps as much as any staff in the country. He's a hard worker and still one of the best recruiters around and one of the best evaluators of talent.

"I'm not sure he couldn't coach for several more years, as long as his health stays good. I don't say this cruelly, but without Bobbi now, his being with the team and with all of us has filled the void.

"It wouldn't surprise me if he went three or four years. Maybe two more. I don't think it's going to be five, six or seven. But I still think he's very good. Come to our practices and he's as sharp as ever.''

The Bobbi referred to by Rosborough was Bobbi Olson, Lute's late wife. They were married for 47 years. Bobbi died in January, 2001.The Olsons have five children and 14 grandchildren.

By the way, I have seen part of the Arizona Daily Star package written about Olson as he prepares to be inducted into basketball's Hall of Fame.

In trying to capture the "fishbowl'' life Olson thought he had in Iowa City, reporter Bruce Pascoe wrote: "....the intensity of Iowa's well-meaning fans became overwhelming, at times, for Olson, especially after the 1980 Final Four. A private man who was dealing with big-time celebrity status for the first time in his life, Olson wanted to be left alone away from the court, according to several Olson staffers and friends.

"That didn't happen often. One of Olson's daughters, Jodi Brase, said the family rarely bothered to eat in restaurants because of a fear of interruption. (Doug) Goodfellow (an Iowa City businessman) once mistakenly forced a reluctant Olson out for a meal, and sure enough, a lady approached Olson and asked for an autograph.

"She said she wanted it for her son,'' Goodfellow said. "So Lute said, ‘How old is your son?' She said, '31.'

Olson even tried moving out of town, to Lake MacBride, north of Iowa City. But even when he went on that lake, or any other nearby lake, he was doomed. Other boaters would constantly be seen pointing at Olson or whizzing by for a closer look.

"Meanwhile, the Iowa media zoomed in closer than Olson cared, occasionally criticizing his moves. Al Grady of the Iowa City Press-Citizen wrote in May, 1983, after Olson's departure, that the coach had created an ‘adversary sort' of relationship with the media in his final years.

"Goodfellow said he remembered Olson asking him not to talk to several writers and wondered why Olson cared so deeply about what they wrote.

"He was sensitive to criticism,'' Goodfellow said. ‘He wasn't able to laugh it off. It's just the way he is. He's not a warm and fuzzy person.'

Still, one of Olson's adversaries, Ron Maly of the Des Moines Register, said Olson ultimately proved no more difficult to deal with than any other high-profile, strong-minded coach.

"'He didn't like to be criticized, but I can't think of too many coaches who do,''' Maly said. ‘I can't think of too many sportswriters who (like to be criticized), either.'

"Maly said Olson, in retrospect, probably should have left the Iowa fishbowl earlier, and Olson almost did. Twice, he was courted by USC, and Goodfellow said Olson used to jokingly sing the Trojan fight song to him. Considering Olson's Southern California background, the job would have been a natural fit....''

Here & There

My guess is that Arizona will be ranked No. 1 and Kansas No. 2 in most preseason polls. Had Drew Gooden not left Kansas early for the NBA, it likely would be the other way around. Whatever, the teams will have a chance to decide the top spot on Jan. 25 when Arizona plays at Kansas in a game that will be televised by CBS. "That's going to be a huge game,'' Jim Rosborough said.... Pete Newell, a well-known former coach, will say words in Lute Olson's behalf at the Hall of Fame ceremonies. "Lute asked (former UCLA standout coach) John Wooden, but Wooden's health wouldn't allow him to travel cross-country to do it,'' Rosborough said. "We thought it would either be Newell or Bill Walton who would be there.'' Walton's son, 6-8, 245-pound forward Luke Walton, will be a standout player on Arizona's team this season.....Arizona's basketball court is dedicated to Lute and Bobbi Olson....The upcoming season will be Rosborough's 14th at Arizona. He was one of Olson's assistants at Iowa from 1974-1983. Rosborough and his wife, Kim, have two sons—Greg, 19, who is attending Arizona on an academic scholarship and is a video manager for the basketball program, and Jon, 18. "Jon plays basketball for Canyon Del Oro High School in Tucson,'' Rosborough said. "The team plays in a Thanksgiving tournament in Moline, Ill. He'll be the third generation to play on that floor. My dad played there and I played there.''

Ron Maly

Vol. 2, No. 63

Sept. 22, 2002

[Ron Maly's e-mail address is ]

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