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Head Coach Lute Olson
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 06/22/2004
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Lute Olson
Record at Arizona: 422-127 (17 years)
Career Record: 614-219 (27 years)

  • NCAA Records
  • Career vs. Opponents

    As Lute Olson enters his 18th season at the University of Arizona, he has established both the Wildcat basketball program and himself as two of the preeminent figures on the collegiate basketball landscape.

    Whether it's the 1997 national championship, its three Final Four appearances, 16 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the nine Pacific-10 Conference titles, or the nation's best winning percentage over the past 13 seasons, winning basketball and the UA go hand-in-hand.

    Set to begin his 28th season as a coach at the Division I level in time spent at Arizona, Iowa and Long Beach State, Olson is one of just 33 head coaches in NCAA history to win 600 or more games. He owns a career record 614-219, which adds up to a gaudy winning percentage of .737. He has recorded a mark of 422-127 in his 17 years at Arizona, while being named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year six times (1998, 94, 93, 89, 88, 86). Olson has also guided Arizona to 13 consecutive 20-win seasons, making him one of only six coaches in NCAA history to record 22 or more 20-win seasons.

    Considered one of the top coaches in Pac-10 Conference history, he has led Arizona to the aforementioned nine league titles, including two of the past three. He has a career Pac-10 mark of 238-68 (.777) and the the 238 Pac-10 wins makes him one of just six head coaches in league history to win more than 200 Pac-10 games -- joining John Wooden, Slats Gill, Hec Edmundson, Jack Friel and Ralph Miller. Olson is the No. 2 coach in Pac-10 history for career winning percentage for conference games with more than two years experience, trailing only the legendary Wooden (.810/304-74).

    Olson, who was a finalist for this past year's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductions, had success long before his NCAA days as well. In 11 years as a high school coach (1956-69), he compiled a record of 157-86. After that, there were three years in the junior college ranks at Long Beach City College, where he was 104-20. Factor in those games, along with the contests as the head coach at Arizona, Iowa and Long Beach State, and he has coached in exactly 1,200 games heading into 2000-01.

    His success not only happens on the court, but also in the recruiting process and in the number of former players that currently play in the NBA. For instance, the 1998-99 recruiting class was judged as one of the top-three in the nation by some analysts. With a 1998 NBA draft-day high tying three choices, followed by two in the 1999 NBA Draft, Arizona had 15 UA players picked by NBA teams in the 1990s. In his collegiate career, he has produced 35 NBA Draft picks, including 20 at Arizona. Last year, there were nine Arizona alums on NBA rosters and two former Wildcats were members of the 1999 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs (Sean Elliott & Steve Kerr).

    In a career that has been dotted with terrific coaching jobs, the 1999-2000 season may have been one of the best. Whether it was an injury to a key player, someone who left the program or the fact that there were three freshmen in the starting lineup, he was at his best all year in leading the team to a 27-7 record and the program's ninth Pac-10 Conference championship. The season was also highlighted by his 600th career win, his 400th victory as Arizona's head coach and the renaming of the McKale Center playing surface, "Lute Olson Court".

    Arizona fans have grown accustomed to success when the hoops season rolls around, but believe it or not, this same attitude did not exist prior to Olson's arrival in the desert prior to the 1983-84 campaign.

    Back on March 29, 1983, when Olson took over the reigns in Tucson after nine successful seasons at Iowa, he was given a program that finished just 4-24 the season before. A quick and rapid rise to the top would ensue, much to the delight of the legions of hoop-crazed in the Arizona southwest desert

    Simply put, the 65-year old Olson has created a basketball-rich tradition at the University of Arizona and made the Cats one of the programs that others want to emulate.

    In 1997-98, he put together what may have been the best team in Arizona history. His silver season as a collegiate coach, Olson won his sixth Pac-10 Coach of the Year honor after directing Arizona to the program's eighth Pac-10 Championship during his tenure. That defending national champion club took everyone's best shot throughout the season, but still managed to post a 30-5 record, thanks in part to a school record tying winning streak of 19 consecutive games. The Wildcats, who were a last second desperation three-pointer away from becoming the first team in Pac-10 history to complete the league schedule 18-0, would get one step away from the school's fourth Final Four before falling to Utah in the Elite Eight at Anaheim.

    In a career that has produced one major achievement after another, it was the 1996-97 season that proved to be the year when Olson reached the pinnacle of his coaching career.

    After seeing his squad finish with a regular season record of 19-9 and its lowest Pac-10 finish (fifth) since his first year at the UA (eighth), he rallied the troops for one of the most remarkable runs in the NCAA tournament's history. Going in as a No. 4 seed and with a two-game losing streak, the Wildcats proceeded to do what no team had ever done -- beat three No. 1 seeds on the way to the national title.

    Oh, and by the way, this trio of wins didn't come against just any group of teams -- they were versus the three winningest programs in college basketball history.

    The excitement started when Arizona knocked off everyone's favorite to win it all, Kansas, in the Sweet 16 at Birmingham, Ala. Then, after going into overtime to beat Providence in the Southeast Regional Championship (96-92) the UA advanced to the Final Four in Indianapolis, where it beat its second No. 1 seed, North Carolina. This win set up the title game against defending national champion, Kentucky.

    The Wildcats vs. Wildcats match-up proved to be a battle of epic proportions, one that resulted in the first NCAA overtime title game in seven years. When the dust had settled, Olson's club came away with a 84-79 win, a conquest that took place just two days after his 14-year anniversary of being named the head coach at Arizona. The monumental win set off not only a wild celebration at both the RCA Dome, but back home on the streets of Tucson.

    That national championship team was built out of the same mold as the man who was in charge -- forged with a competitive fire, intensely driven and dedicated to be the best. Following the year, Olson was awarded with the second annual Chase Winged Foot Award, an honor that is presented to the coach of the national champions by the New York Athletic Club.

    In the year prior to the national championship campaign (1995-96), Olson reached a pair of head coaching milestones, as he won his 300th game as the UA head man and attained his 500th career victory as a head coach.

    Following the initial season as the Wildcats' head man, the Arizona basketball program began its trek into not only the local and regional limelight, but the national spotlight as well. The excitement that Olson brought to McKale Center has been parlayed into sellout season ticket crowds for the past 13 years in a row and well-earned respect for Olson among his peers in the coaching profession.

    He continues to put his stamp on the NCAA and Pac-10 coaching record book with each season. He has coached in the NCAA tournament 21 times in the last 22 years, including the 16 straight seasons at Arizona and overall he has a 32-21 NCAA record. In addition to the appearances with his Arizona clubs from 1985-00, he led Iowa to five consecutive trips in his final five years in Iowa City, including the 1980 Final Four.

    Olson's Arizona teams are 25-15 in NCAA play with trips to the 1988, 1994 & 1997 Final Four. His Iowa teams were 7-6 in NCAA action including a Final Four trip in 1980. His 32 NCAA Tournament wins place him seventh on the NCAA all-time tournament victory list and he is one of just 14 coaches who have coached in four of more Final Fours. Further, his 21 all-time trips to the NCAA Tournament puts him fourth on the all-time head coaching list.

    Some teams rebuild, but Olson reloads the Wildcat program -- always giving his players the right to approve or disapprove any prospective recruit.

    "I have been a firm believer that you build a successful program with good people, Olson said. "We never recruit the great players who are questionable people. Hopefully they will be great players as well."

    Many of these players have utilized the Arizona program to hone their skills and move onto the next level. Under Olson, 20 players have been selected in the NBA Draft, while numerous others have gone onto play overseas.

    It most assuredly has been a successful run at Arizona for Olson. After coming to Tucson, it proved to take just one season for him to ignite a dormant program.

    In 1984-85 -- his second year -- the Wildcats finished the year at 21-10 and made their first of many visits to the NCAA tournament. It had been eight years since an Arizona team had won 20 games and Olson was just beginning to scratch the surface.

    National recognition came with the 1986 season as the Cats won their first Pac-10 title and put together a 23-9 record. That was the first of eight Pac-10 titles that Arizona has won since Olson's arrival. The four titles won from 1988-91 marked the first time a Pac-10 team won four consecutive titles since the league expansion in 1979.

    With that 1988 Pac-10 title, the season culminated into Arizona's first trip to the Final Four as the Cats put together their finest season in school history with a 35-3 record.

    Since that 1987-88 Final Four season, Arizona has won an average of 25 games a season (averaging just six losses) and the overall record of 348-81 during that same period is the nation's best in terms of winning percentage (.811).

    The numbers get even better when you look at what the Cats have done at home for Olson. In the last 17 years under Olson, Arizona has amassed a record of 259-26 in McKale Center, have lost only nine non-conference games and have won 187 of its last 198 games. During that time, the Cats had an amazing run of 71 consecutive victories without a defeat, making it one of the NCAA's all-time top 10 longest home-court winning streaks.

    The streaks haven't built around a light schedule either. Olson does not avoid tough games. Since his arrival, Arizona has played 40 non-conference, regular season games against teams that played in the Final Four later that same season. Further, they have matched wits with a team that played in the NCAA title game in five of the past six seasons.

    With the success of the Wildcats throughout the years, the accolades for Olson continue to grow. His resume includes Coach of the Year honors from both the Pac-10 (1986, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1994 and 1998) and the Big Ten (1979 and 1981) in addition to a variety of regional and national honors. In the summer of 1999, he was also inducted into the Pima County (Ariz.) Sports Hall of Fame and was a finalist for various national coach of the year awards last season.

    Olson's success at Arizona mirrors his earlier work at Iowa where in nine years in Iowa City from 1975 to 1983 he became the winningest coach in school history (168-90) and took the Hawkeyes to the NCAA five straight times including a Final Four trip in 1980.

    Olson was born on a farm just outside Maryville, N.D., and would go on to attend high school in Grand Forks, N.D., for the 1951-52 season, where he led the team to the 1952 state basketball championship. For college, he was a three-sport athlete (basketball, football and baseball) at Augsburg College (Minn.) from 1953-56. After five years of prep coaching in Minnesota, he moved west and coached for seven years in Anaheim and Huntington Beach, Calif., high schools.

    He then guided Long Beach City College to three league titles and the 1971 state juco crown and was the conference coach of the year in each of his three seasons. After that tenure, he would become the head coach at Long Beach State for one seasons (1973-74), where he was 24-2. That got the attention of Iowa, which hired him for the next season.

    Olson married the former Roberta (Bobbi) Russell in 1953. The Olsons have five grown children -- daughters Vicki, Jodi and Christi, and sons Greg and Steve - and 13 grandchildren.

     

    Lute Olson's Year-By-Year Record

    Long Beach St.

    1973-74

    24-2

     

     

    Long Beach St.

    1 year

    24-2

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Iowa

    1974-75

    10-16

    7-11 Big 10 (7th)

     

    Iowa

    1975-76

    19-10

    9-9 Big 10 (5th)

     

    Iowa

    1976-77

    20-7

    12-6 Big 10 (4th

     

    Iowa

    1977-78

    12-15

    5-13 Big 10 (8th)

     

    Iowa

    1978-79

    20-8

    13-5 Big 10 (1st)

    NCAA Mideast 1st Rd

    Iowa

    1979-80

    23-10

    10-8 Big 10 (4th)

    NCAA East Champions Final Four

    Iowa

    1980-81

    21-7

    13-5 Big 10 (2nd)

    NCAA Midwest 2nd

    Iowa

    1981-82

    21-8

    12-6 Big 10 (2nd)

    NCAA West 2nd Rd

    Iowa

    1982-83

    22-9

    10-8 Big 10 (T/2nd)

    NCAA Midwest Reg.

    Iowa

    9 years

    167-91 (.647)

    Big 10: 91-71(.561)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Arizona

    1983-84

    11-17

    8-10 Pac-10 (8th)

     

    Arizona

    1984-85

    21-10

    12-6 Pac-10 (T-3rd)

    NCAA West 1st Rd

    Arizona

    1985-86

    23-9

    14-4 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West 1st Rd

    Arizona

    1986-87

    18-12

    13-5 Pac-10 (2nd)

    NCAA West 1st Rd

    Arizona

    1987-88

    35-3

    17-1 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West Champ. Final Four

    Arizona

    1988-89

    29-4

    17-1 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West Regional

    Arizona

    1989-90

    25-7

    15-3 Pac-10 (T/1st)

    NCAA West 2nd Rd

    Arizona

    1990-91

    28-7

    14-4 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West Regional

    Arizona

    1991-92

    24-7

    13-5 Pac-10 (3rd)

    NCAA SE 1st Rd

    Arizona

    1992-93

    24-4

    17-1 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West 1st Rd

    Arizona

    1993-94

    29-6

    14-4 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West Champion Final Four

    Arizona

    1994-95

    24-7

    14-4 Pac-10 (2nd)

    NCAA Midwest 1st Rd

    Arizona

    1995-96

    27-6

    14-4 Pac-10 (2nd)

    NCAA West Regional

    Arizona

    1996-97

    25-9

    11-7 Pac-10 (5th)

    NCAA Champions

    Arizona

    1997-98

    30-5

    17-1 Pac-10 (1st)

    NCAA West Reg Final

    Arizona

    1998-99

    22-7

    13-5 Pac-10 (2nd)

    NCAA Midwest Reg.

     

     

     

     

     

    Arizona

    16 years

    395-120 (.767)

    Pac-10: 223-65 (.774)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Long Beach St.

    1 year

    24-2

    .943

     

    Iowa

    9 years

    168-90

    .651

     

    Arizona

    16 years

    395-120

    .767

     

    Overall

    26 years

    587-212

    .735

     

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