TUCSON, Ariz. – I spent a few days back in my old stomping grounds in Tucson and got a chance to catch Arizona’s win against Arizona State on Saturday, meet new athletic director Greg Byrne and also grab lunch with Lute Olson.
First, here’s the link to my story on Arizona and how Sean Miller is moving the program back in the right direction, but it’s still a ways away from being what it once was in the Olson regime:
There’s one telling quote from Olson in the story about how badly he felt that he left the program in disarray:
It looked like the old Lute Olson when he walked into his favorite Italian restaurant on Friday afternoon.
A couple of years ago, you could sense that something was wrong when talking to the Hall of Fame coach.
There were often times when he’d stumble on his words and lose his train of thought.
However, the coach who built Arizona into a national power for more than two decades was his old self and is enjoying retirement.
Olson, 76, is a consultant for the University of Arizona Cancer Center – in which he helps to raise money. His first wife, Bobbi, died of cancer.
Olson was married again this past April after an ugly second marriage that ended in the midst of his health issues.
Olson touched on a few topics during lunch:
- Olson said he couldn’t be happier with the choice of Sean Miller to follow him in Tucson. ``He’s a family man who treats kids the right way and is a terrific coach,” Olson said. ``I think with next year’s recruiting class, they have a chance to be very good and can challenge for the league title.”
- He defended his former protégé, Memphis coach Josh Pastner. ``He needs to get his type of kids, the kind of kids he wants in the program to fit his style of play and coaching,” Olson said of Pastner, who played and coached under him. ``I also thought it was unprofessional of John Calipari to take all those kids out of there to Kentucky. Very unprofessional.”
- Olson said that high school coaches need to be integrated back into the recruiting process – as was the case years ago. ``They need to let them all coach in the summer. There are some good AAU coaches, but there are also too many that don’t hold these kids accountable. I think most of the high school coaches have the kids best interests at heart and are more qualified to coach.”
- Olson said what many coaches maintain, that getting rid of the April evaluation period wasn’t the right move.
- He said he attends just about every home game, but does not go to practice. ``I never wanted to be someone who is looking over someone else’s shoulder,” Olson said.
- Olson said he wanted to coach until he was 79 or 80 – health-permitting. ``I still loved it,” Olson said. ``And I really miss the relationships with the players and working with them – even more than the games.”