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O'Neill to Succeed Olson
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/18/2007
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Succession Plan Announced for Head Basketball Coaching Position

Olson O'Neill?
? Lute Olson and Kevin O'Neill, the faces of UA basketball
TUCSON , Ariz.ˇ? A succession plan for the head basketball coach position at the University of Arizona was announced today, with Athletic Director Jim Livengood designating Kevin O'Neill to succeed Hall of Famer Lute Olson when Olson's tenure as head cach concludes.

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????????????Olson, 73, requested and was granted a leave of absence on Sunday, Nov. 4, prior to the Wildcatsˇ? exhibition opener. It was announced recently by Livengood that the coach had decided not to return for the remainder of this season. No timetable has been announced for his potential return to the sidelines, Livengood said, although Olson has indicated that he plans to return to coaching next year.

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????????????Oˇ?Neill, 50, hired last May as the top assistant to Olson, currently is at the reins of the program as coach during Olsonˇ?s leave.

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?A Kevin O'Neill
? O'Neill met with media Tuesday afternoon
ˇ?Kevin is our coach for now, and will be our coach in the future when Lute decides to retire,ˇ± Livengood said. "It goes without saying, but let me say it again: the University of Arizona's appreciation of what Lute Olson has meant to our program is boundless."

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ˇ?Itˇ?s an unbelievable honor to follow Lute Olson,ˇ± Oˇ?Neill said. ˇ?Iˇ?m thrilled to get the opportunity and will work to continue the superb tradition of Arizona basketball when Lute is done.ˇ±

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Olson has a career record of 780-280 (.736)?in 34 seasons as an NCAA Division I head coach and 589-187 (.759)?in 24 years at Arizona.?

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Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 27, 2002, Olson is one of only 16 coaches in basketball history to tally 1,000 career victories (covering all levels; Olson also coached on the high school and junior college levels), and has the most Pac-10 wins (327) of any coach in league history.

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During his 24-year tenure at Arizona, the Wildcats have won one national championship (1997), played in the national championship game (2001), participated in four Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997, 2001), won 11 Pac-10 Conference titles and four Pac-10 Tournament crowns (1988, ˇ®89, ˇ®90, 2002).

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Olson has led Arizona to the NCAA Tournament for 23 consecutive seasons, which is the longest active and second-longest streak in NCAA history (North Carolina, 27).

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O'Neill 2 web?
In his collegiate career, Olson has produced 52 NBA Draft picks, including 31 at Arizona, and coached 19 Wildcat All-Americans.? Heˇ?s led UA to 20 consecutive 20-win seasons and has 29 overall in his career, making him one of only three head coaches in NCAA history to record 29 or more 20-win seasons.

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Oˇ?Neill has 11 seasons of experience as an NCAA Division I head coach, where he compiled a 152-165 (.479) record while at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. Oˇ?Neill spent the last seven seasons in NBA circles, including the 2003-04 season as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

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????????????The Wildcats, ranked No. 19 by the Associated Press in this weekˇ?s college basketball poll, are 7-2 heading into their game Wednesday?at Nevada-Las Vegas. The record counts on Oˇ?Neillˇ?s ledger as opposed to Olsonˇ?s under NCAA coaching guidelines.

O'Neill's Press Conference Transcript:

Opening Statement

Iˇ?m obviously honored with todayˇ?s announcement.? I appreciate that Jim Livengood, Lute Olson and our administration have the confidence in me to put me in a position to follow Lute whenever he decides heˇ?s done.? I would like to make sure that everybody understands this is a succession plan.? None of us know when itˇ?s going to happen obviously.? I think itˇ?s a good plan.? I think itˇ?s one that everyone is comfortable with, including myself, my wife Roberta and my son Sean.? Iˇ?m very pleased that we will be in Tucson for quite some time.? Again we donˇ?t know how long that will beˇ?it usually depends on winning as you go along obviously.? The bottom line is that I feel that I am in the right place at the right time.

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I appreciate Lute bringing me here in the first place in May or this would have never happened.? I appreciate Jim Livengood and our athletic administration and University administration has really been as supportive as they have been through, not difficult times, but tumultuous times.? They have always let me know that they supported what I was doing and what we were doing in the program, and that means an awful lot.

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Iˇ?m happy for our players that theyˇ?ve responded as well as they have to all the situations that have surrounded them and have great admiration and respect for them, not just as players, but as student-athletes.? I have enjoyed coaching them very much to this point and feel like they are a group that can keep getting better and keep improving, and thatˇ?s kept all of us focused.? In my mind our players have kept all of us focused.

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To our fan base, I would say that I want to continue all of the traditions that Lute has established here of having great character guys, of playing championship basketball, of playing exciting basketball.? My hope as we go forward is that we could come ?C if I could come anywhere near ?C to matching half the things that Lute Olsonˇ?s done in his time here.? I know that Iˇ?m filling big shoes.? I know thatˇ?s a tall order, but itˇ?s something that Iˇ?m excited about moving forward.

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Have you prepared yourself for an announcement like this in the last few weeks?

There had obviously been some discussions.? Jim didnˇ?t wake up this morning and make this announcement.? Weˇ?d had some discussions.? Lute was included in those discussions.? Iˇ?m sure the people that Jim answers to were included in those discussions.? Again, I say that I feel very good about how Jim Livengood has handled everything in this whole situation.? I feel very strongly that he supports our basketball program, supports Lute, supports myself and our players, and I think those things have kept this thing together more than anything. The fact that we have a very responsive administration; that we have people that care about basketball and understand the importance of basketball within the realm of the entire university.? Itˇ?s our hope that we can keep playing good basketball for the rest of this year and for the next 20 years if possible.

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Can you give a timeline of the discussions between you and Jim?

They were just kind of on and off.? Jim and I talk a lot about different things.? To get into specificsˇ?I wouldnˇ?t even remember the dates to be honest with you, or the times to be honest with you.? Weˇ?ve had some ongoing discussions back and forth about the best situation, and obviously Lute was included in those discussions and feels good about the announcement that was made today or it wouldnˇ?t have been made.? I wouldnˇ?t have wanted it made if Lute wasnˇ?t comfortable with it.? The thing I want to point out to everyone is that this is Luteˇ?s program.? Iˇ?m the caretaker of it right now this year.? When he comes back next year, he will be the head coach.? Whenever Lute is done coaching, I hope that I have the opportunity as the plan says.? Weˇ?re certainly not by any stretch of the imagination wanting that to happen right off.? We want Lute to come back and coach our basketball team and be the head of our program for as long as he wants to do that.

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What do you think this means to the city of Tucson?

The only thing that I can say is that itˇ?s more important to what the city means to our basketball program.? When you go into that arena every day and every seat is sold out and people stand the entire time until a basket is scored, that says a lot about the people of this city and how theyˇ?ve supported this program over the last 25 years.? There are no more supportive fans anywhere.? There is not a better place to live, and believe me, Iˇ?ve tried most of them.? Iˇ?ve lived in a lot of different cities, lived in some small towns, coached on different levels, done all that.? To me, this feels like coming home.? It did when I came back here in May.? Itˇ?s one of the reasons I did it.? Like I said, Iˇ?m very proud that anyone would think that I could come close to stepping into Lute Olsonˇ?s shoes when he retires.? That will be a very difficult task, a daunting task, to say the least but one that Iˇ?m going to do my very best day in and day out to accomplish.

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What are your feelings about succeeding a legend?

If you look at track records, following legends hasnˇ?t been very healthy for most people when they coach.? Everybody knows Gene Bartow did it with (UCLAˇ?s John Wooden).? It happens all the time.? Someone has to follow the legend.? Usually in the coaching profession the running joke is it will be a good job for the second guy.? But I donˇ?t look at it that way at all.? Luteˇ?s established such a reputation and tradition for excellence here that I wonˇ?t say itˇ?s going to be easy, because I know itˇ?s not.? Again, Iˇ?m a different person that Lute.? Iˇ?m a different personality than Lute.? Iˇ?m different in a lot of ways.? But the core values of our program that heˇ?s established of playing winning basketball with good people, representing the university in a first-class manner on and off the court, giving our student-athletes a world-class experience, those are the things I want to carry on.? I feel blessed that I have this opportunity, whenever it comes about.? Like I said, it wonˇ?t be for a lack of effort that I would ever fail because Iˇ?m going to give it my best effort, as I do every single day and will continue to do every day.

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What was the reaction from the fans?

Our fans, in the nine games Iˇ?ve coached, they have been tremendously supportive.? There are no better fans anywhere in the country.? Iˇ?ve seen most of them in college or pro arenas.? Any time you can get an NBA-type playoff atmosphere like we have in McKale Center every game, that says a lot about our fans and the support that we get.

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Iˇ?m sure for the fans ?C it seems different for me even to be standing on the sidelines where Lute stood for the last 24 years.? Even now when I walk out there, itˇ?s kind of hard for me to believe that Luteˇ?s not there with us.? The good thing is that he will be back there and our fans have something to look forward to with him coming back there.

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Has this ever been a dream job for you?

When I was an assistant here, I used to always think boy that is a great to have the Arizona job.? What a great job.? It is a dream job.? For me to say that any job is a dream job is a dream job after being in the number of jobs Iˇ?ve been in.? I feel blessed that Iˇ?m going to have this opportunity.? I feel privileged that Iˇ?m going to be able to coach the University of Arizonaˇ?s basketball team.? I want to stress that it is the University of Arizonaˇ?s basketball team, and the city of Tucsonˇ?s and the state of Arizonaˇ?s because that is who we represent.? I hope that I can make it a dream job.? You make it a dream job by doing what Lute did, and thatˇ?s having 25 years of the highest level of excellence on and off the court that you could ever have.

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How does it feel to have Luteˇ?s blessing in this?

Without Luteˇ?s blessing this wasnˇ?t going to happen and I wouldnˇ?t have even thought about it or wanted it to happen.? That would never have been a discussion.? I have great respect for Lute as a person, as a coach, everything he stands for.? So without Luteˇ?s blessing this thing would never have been a thought in any way.? I feel privileged and blessed that it does have Luteˇ?s blessing and itˇ?s something thatˇ?s very important to me.

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What was the playersˇ? reaction?

Iˇ?m sure that they werenˇ?t aware of it and I didnˇ?t bring it up to them.? The thing Iˇ?ve tried really hard to do is to keep their focus on them and on their team.? It is the playersˇ? basketball team when you get down to it.? Iˇ?m sure that our players will have some sort of reaction in their minds, but I think the most important thing for them is moving forward how we do tonight at practice and tomorrow at shootaround.? Thatˇ?s what Iˇ?ve talked to them about the entire time weˇ?ve been doing this.

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Following a legendˇ?no pressure, right?

There was a time in my career when I would really feel pressure.? I think all coaches do at different times.? Iˇ?ve almost gotten to the point where I donˇ?t really feel pressure, I feel an expectation level and a desire to fill that expectation level.? Iˇ?m also convinced that if we do our job and our staff does its job and our team does its job, we will reach the expectation level that our fans have for us, which is very lofty obviously.? Iˇ?m never going to live up to what Lute has done.? Unless you win multiple national championships, the accomplishments that Lute has made on and off the court and the mark heˇ?s made for himself in the city of Tucson and the state of Arizona, youˇ?re not going to match those.? Iˇ?m not going to try to be Lute when I take over, Iˇ?m going to try to do the things heˇ?s done basketball-wise and off the court to promote our university and our program.? Iˇ?m just going to have to be myself.? Iˇ?m a different guy than Lute, but we do have the same core beliefs as you move forward.

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? O'Neill and sophomore forward Jordan Hill

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