June 5, 2002
LOS ANGELES - University of Arizona head coach Lute Olson was one of five individuals and one team selected for enshrinement Wednesday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
A native of Mayville, N.D., Olson earned his piece of basketball immortality with a coaching career that spans 43 seasons and includes nearly 1,000 career victories. A success at every stop along his career, Olson has won more than 70 percent of his games on the high school, junior college and NCAA Division I level. He was a finalist for enshrinement in 2000 and 2001 and is joined in the Class of 2002 by players Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Drazen Petrovic, coaches Larry Brown and Kay Yow, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
For the last 32 years, Olson has served as a head coach at the collegiate level, compiling a 767-255 (.750) overall record at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, Long Beach State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Arizona. Olson, who is the seventh winningest active Division I coach, holds the distinction of being one of eight coaches in college history to coach in five or more Final Fours and is one of 11 coaches who have taken two different teams to the Final Four (Arizona, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001; Iowa, 1980). His 23 NCAA Tournament appearances are third most among active coaches and his 39 NCAA victories are third most among active coaches and sixth all-time. His 1997 Arizona squad captured the National Championship with an 84-79 overtime win over Kentucky.
"I think it ranks right up there with the NCAA Championship and the 1986 World Championship," said Olson. "This is definitely one of the special things that has happened in my career. I am very thankful for the recognition and opportunity for enshrinement. I want to thank Bobbi and my family for their sacrifices in addition to the former assistant coaches and former players who also share in this honor as well."
Olson has 26 winning seasons in 29 years of coaching on the NCAA Division I level and has led UA to 15 consecutive 20-win seasons and has 24 overall in his career, making him one of only five head coaches in NCAA history to record 24 or more 20-win seasons. A master of player development, Olson has produced 44 NBA Draft picks, including 25 at Arizona.
He became the head coach at Arizona on March 29, 1983, and in 19 seasons in Tucson has compiled a 471-143 (.767) record and over the last 15 seasons has posted the nation's best winning percentage (.805, 401-97). Olson has led Arizona to nine Pacific-10 Conference championships and four league postseason tournament crowns. He has the fourth most Pac-10 victories (262) in history, trailing UCLA's John Wooden (304, 1949-75), Oregon State's Slats Gill (276, 1929-64) and Washington's Hec Edmundson (266, 1921-47). He has the second-best conference winning percentage in Pac-10 history (minimum three years), trailing only Wooden (.810/304-74) and has been named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year six times (1986, '88, '89, '93, '94, '98).
Under Olson, UA's 18 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is the longest current streak in college basketball and is second longest in NCAA history. Arizona has been to the NCAA Sweet 16 nine times in the last 15 years.
As head coach at Iowa, Olson led the Hawkeyes to the 1979 Big Ten Conference championship and five consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament. Included in that run was a berth in the 1980 Final Four. For his efforts, Olson earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors twice (1979 & '81).
"Going back to our first staff meeting at Iowa, I sensed something special in Coach Olson," said UA associate head coach Jim Rosborough, an Olson aide for 22 seasons. "In my opinion, he is one of the four or five best coaches ever. He has been highly successful at two difficult places, is a master technician, and an excellent recruiter. He's one of the best ever and has done it surrounded by family and with a great deal of class." He also won gold medals in international competition as the United States head coach for 1984 Jones Cup and 1986 World Championship teams. His '86 squad was the last U.S. team to win a major international basketball competition made up of collegiate players.
He earned the John R. Wooden "Legends of Coaching" and the Clair Bee Coach-of-the-Year awards in 2001 and earned national Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1988 and 1990 as well. Olson was inducted into the Pima County (Ariz.) Sports Hall of Fame and in 2001 was inducted into the Two Harbors (Minn.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Olson was born on a farm just outside Mayville, 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. 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 junior college crown and was the conference coach of the year in each of his three seasons. Following that, he became the head coach at Long Beach State for one season (1973-74), where he went 24-2. That got the attention of Iowa, which hired him for the next season.
"This recognition is for everyone, including the fans of the University of Arizona, who have been so influential over the past 19 years," Olson said. "I know that my family is very excited and I'm sure the current and former assistants and players are excited about and share in the immense pride that I feel."
Olson was married to the former Roberta (Bobbi) Russell for 47 years. Bobbi passed away in January 2001. Olson has five grown children -- daughters Vicki, Jodi and Christi, and sons Greg and Steve - and 14 grandchildren.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2002 will enshrined on Friday, Sept. 27, 2002, in Springfield, Mass. The six inductees represent the 44th group to enter the Hall of Fame since 1959.
Lute Olson's Year-By-Year Record on the NCAA Division I Level
School Year Record Pct. Conf. Finish Postseason Long Beach State 1973-74 24-2 .923 Iowa 1974-75 10-16 .385 7-11 7th Iowa 1975-76 19-10 .655 9-9 5th Iowa 1976-77 20-7 .741 12-6 4th Iowa 1977-78 12-15 .444 5-13 8th Iowa 1978-79 20-8 .714 13-5 1st NCAA Mideast 1st Round Iowa 1979-80 23-10 .697 10-8 4th NCAA Final Four Iowa 1980-81 21-7 .750 13-5 2nd NCAA Midwest 2nd Round Iowa 1981-82 21-8 .724 12-6 2nd NCAA West 2nd Round Iowa 1982-83 22-9 .710 10-8 T2nd NCAA Midwest Regional Arizona 1983-84 11-17 .393 8-10 8th Arizona 1984-85 21-10 .677 12-6 T3rd NCAA West 1st Round Arizona 1985-86 23-9 .719 14-4 1st NCAA West 1st Round Arizona 1986-87 18-12 .600 13-5 2nd NCAA West 1st Round Arizona 1987-88 35-3 .921 17-1 1st NCAA Final Four Arizona 1988-89 29-4 .879 17-1 1st NCAA West Regional Arizona 1989-90 25-7 .781 15-3 T1st NCAA West 2nd Round Arizona 1990-91 28-7 .800 14-4 1st NCAA West Regional Arizona 1991-92 24-7 .774 13-5 3rd NCAA Southeast 1st Round Arizona 1992-93 24-4 .857 17-1 1st NCAA West 1st Round Arizona 1993-94 29-6 .829 14-4 1st NCAA Final Four Arizona 1994-95 24-7 .774 14-4 2nd NCAA Midwest 1st Round Arizona 1995-96 27-6 .818 14-4 2nd NCAA West Regional Arizona 1996-97 25-9 .735 11-7 5th NCAA Champions Arizona 1997-98 30-5 .857 17-1 1st NCAA West Regional Final Arizona 1998-99 22-7 .759 13-5 2nd NCAA Midwest Regional Arizona 1999-2000 27-7 .794 15-3 T1st NCAA West 2nd Round Arizona 2000-01 25-6* .806 12-2* 2nd NCAA Runner-up Arizona 2001-02 24-10 .706 12-6 T2nd NCAA West Regional Overall 29 years 663-235 .738
Arizona 19 years 471-143 .767 262-76 .775 Iowa 9 years 167-91 .647 91-71 .561 Long Beach State 1 year 24-2 .923
* Reflects Arizona record with Olson on the sideline. UA was 28-8 overall and 15-3 in the Pac-10. Olson took a five-game leave of absence during the year. Associate head coach Jim Rosborough is credited with a 3-2 record in that span.