TUCSON--University of Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood announced today that head men's basketball coach Lute Olson has requested and been given a leave of absence due to a personal matter.
Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill will handle the coach's duties in his absence, Livengood said, for as yet an unspecified time period.
"Lute asked for a leave of absence after yesterdayˇ?s football game," said Livengood. "Every intention is that he will be back. We will do whatever is in the best interested of Lute and Christine."
"Today we will move forward," Livengood continued. "Kevin Oˇ?Neill will take over our basketball program."
"Our players will carry on business as usual," said Oˇ?Neill. "Itˇ?s really important to respect Luteˇ?s and Christineˇ?s wishes that this remain a personal matter."
The 2007-08 season will be Olsonˇ?s 25th at Arizona and his 35th as an NCAA Division I head coach. He has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in that span amassing a career record of 780-280 (.736) and 589-187 (.759) at Arizona. 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 been to the NCAA Tournament for 23 consecutive seasons, which is the longest active and second-longest streak in NCAA history.
"It's all about coaching and playing basketball for the time being, and respecting Coach Olson's wishes for privacy in the matter," O'Neill said.? "We have plenty of work to do to uphold the legacy of excellence Lute's built into this program," he said.
Press Conference Quotes
Lute Olson Leave of Absence
Nov. 4, 2007
Arizona Director of Athletics Jim Livengood
Good morning. All of you or most of you may have received a statement this morning indicating Lute has asked for a leave of absence. That is true, and Iˇ?m going to give you a quick time schedule on this and then turn it over to Kevin (Oˇ?Neill), and give you a little bit of a context of what weˇ?re talking about and go from there. Nobody will probably have all the answers that everybodyˇ?s going to want in here.
After the football game yesterday, Lute and Christine (Olson) normally sit with us during the games; they have for a great number of years since Iˇ?ve been here and Lute said ˇ®Jim, I just need to talk to you for a little bit,ˇ? so we stayed up in the box and he said, ˇ®Iˇ?ve been thinking that there is a personal matter that I really need to take care of and there is some immediacy to it, and I need to request a leave of absence.ˇ? I said to him, ˇ®Coach, whatever you need weˇ?re going to do. Whatever is in your best interest we are going to do.ˇ? We talked further about timeline kind of things and so on.
As you may or may not have seen in the release, every intention certainly is that he is going to be back. That is not the issue right there. The issue right now is that he has requested, and I think we have to honor, that we keep his privacy and allow him some time to deal with a personal matter.
I informed our president (Dr. Robert Shelton) last night, talked with our president last night. Robert was in complete agreement. Whatever is in the best interest of Lute, certainly we need to do. So, weˇ?re on the same page there. I talked with Kevin last night, and talked with Kevin this morning, as well. Kevin and I talked again and talked to Lute and Christine last night a number of times and talked again this morning several times. Where we are right now, at this moment, is doing anything and everything we can to allow Lute anything and everything he needs. A time schedule has not been set. (Lute) is going to be the person that determines that. Today, weˇ?re going to move forward, in terms of Kevin Oˇ?Neill, who has taken responsibility to lead our basketball program and weˇ?ll go into todayˇ?s game. Kevin and I did meet with our basketball team this morning to make sure they were aware of what was going on. Remember, this all transpired since last night. What I would ask each and every one of you is to do what Lute asked of me and us, which is to respect his privacy, to respect a man who has done all of these kinds of things, to allow him this time without trying to do anything more than that. Number one, heˇ?s earned it. Number two, he deserves it, and number three, if any of us were put in a situation where we needed to take care of a personal matter, I think we would want that same type of handling of the situation.
We will both be in contact on a very regular basis, and again to echo what Kevin said (see below), each of you if facing a situation that was very personal with you; you would probably want and hopefully get that kind of respect. I can echo it even stronger in terms of what this gentleman has done. Weˇ?re going to have many more times with a Lute Olson basketball team. This is merely a leave of absence.
Luteˇ?s comment last night as we talked through this was his concern for our team. This is a man who is unbelievable in regards to (making time for) everybody else. He also made the comment that is so very, very true right now that if there was ever a time to coerce Kevin (Oˇ?Neill) into coming back to Wildcat basketball and back into Tucson it is right now.
"(The players are) concerned about whatˇ?s in the best interest of Coach (Olson), not about me - meaning one of our players."
On whether or not Coach Olson was specific about a timetable for his return:
"No, he was not."
On Coach Olsonˇ?s mood when he spoke with Mr. Livengood and Coach Oˇ?Neill on Saturday:
"He was (upbeat). You all know this, the people who have been here a long, long time. This is a man who cares about a lot of things. Heˇ?s not just a guy who cares about a round ball going through a hoop. He cares about people, he cares about kids, he cares about everything. Right now, he has some things he has to take care of and weˇ?re going to honor that."
Confirming the press releaseˇ?s statement that Coach Olsonˇ?s leave is not regarding a health-related matter:
On the feedback from the players on the impact Coach Oˇ?Neill has made on the players this fall:
"Every day I get comments from staff, from players about a lot of things. First, they love the early morning (work outs). Thatˇ?s been incredibly positive, and they wish it was earlier (laughs). The personal attention he gives is incredible. The thing with our staff and our coaches is that he has gotten involved in all of our programs and with all of our coaches. It has been absolutely nothing but positive. Remember, Kevin and I have known each other for quite a while, most of the time it has been with me being on the short end of a particular banquet quip or roast, but thatˇ?s okay (laughs). Itˇ?s been incredibly positive."
On whether or not there will be additional adjustments to staff responsibilities:
"Itˇ?s too early."
"Thatˇ?s the most important thing right now; that this thing does not have a timetable to it."
Arizona Menˇ?s Basketball Assistant Coach Kevin Oˇ?Neill
This will be Luteˇ?s 25th year. I donˇ?t have anything more to say other than what Jim said. I think our players will carry on business as usual, obviously not as usual, but they will carry themselves in a way that youˇ?ll appreciate. I have nothing more to say other than itˇ?s important for all of us ?C Iˇ?m echoing Jimˇ?s sentiments ?C that we respect Luteˇ?s and Christineˇ?s wishes that this stay as a personal matter. I know the first question is, ˇ®Well, whatˇ?s the personal matter?ˇ? I think everybody needs to leave it as the press release said; itˇ?s a personal matter, and that Lute will be dealing with us again shortly, leading our team. Heˇ?s been a great ambassador of the game for 50 years, led our team for 25 years and will continue to lead our team for a long time. The important thing is that we all respect (Luteˇ?s wishes). If he calls me, Iˇ?m going to respond, but Iˇ?m not going to bother Coach Olson or Christine, and when he comes back heˇ?ll be ready to go.
I think one thing to keep in mind. I ask you as a coach to respect the players too. I donˇ?t think itˇ?s fair to them for you to go to all of them and to say ˇ®Really, whatˇ?s going on?ˇ? I know those innuendos will happen. I know there will be all kinds of speculation. Letˇ?s not deal with speculation and let the players stay free of this. Theyˇ?re not going to have any answers; none of us have all the answers. Iˇ?m asking you guys to respect where they are right now. Weˇ?ve got a very young group that hasnˇ?t been through even a game yet, let along having a Hall-of-Fame coach step down for a period of time. I ask you to respect where the players are because theyˇ?re not going to give you any answers. Theyˇ?re on the same page. They just want to play basketball and enjoy their time at the University of Arizona.
On the playersˇ? reaction upon hearing the news:
"I thought they were great. Lute recruited every one of these guys and they love him. They admire him; they respect him, and they know what he stands for. They know what theyˇ?re supposed to stand for. Theyˇ?re naturally young people who are concerned, but they are concerned for Lute personally. I donˇ?t think they are worried about how theyˇ?ll respond, because they feel they will respond well. Young and dumb is a good thing to be some times (smiles). They want to get things going, but they are very much concerned about Coach (Olson).
On Coach Olsonˇ?s role during the leave:
"Iˇ?m sure weˇ?ll talk. Itˇ?s his program. Letˇ?s make one thing straight ?C I am an assistant coach who is going to coach the team until the head coach gets back. Iˇ?m going to do the best job I can to keep us at the level we want to be at and have been at for 25 years. On the day-to-day side, I feel the responsibility to lead our team and lead our staff. Those things, Iˇ?ll take very seriously. Itˇ?s very important for Lute to keep his pulse on those things. As for when we go out there today, I guess you could say Iˇ?m coaching the team because thatˇ?s what Lute requested I do. As I said, he is the head coach, this will be his 25th year and next year will be his 26th year.
On whether or not Coach Olson will attend practices or team functions:
"I have no idea. We havenˇ?t talked about that. He told me basically what he told Jim, that it is a personal matter. I didnˇ?t pry, I didnˇ?t ask because itˇ?s none of my business, and heˇ?s earned the right to be treated that way."
I feel bad for the players and the community because letˇ?s face it; we deserve every bit of Lute we can get. I came back here to coach with Lute and to coach at the University of Arizona because I love this city, I love Lute and I thought it was the right thing to do. Itˇ?s not about how I feel or whatˇ?s going on with me. My main concern is one, Lute and Christine, and two, the players.
"I canˇ?t see any reason to adjust our staff because weˇ?re expecting Lute back soon."