Arizona's Lute Olson will be back when season ends
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood is satisfied Lute Olson will be able to handle the rigors of the job when he returns from a leave of absence.
"I'm comfortable right now, with the information we have at hand as of right now, that he will be ready to come back and be our head basketball coach and fully execute all functions that need to be handled," Livengood said Tuesday at a campus news conference.
Olson is expected to take over as soon as the Wildcats' season ends, which could be as early as next week.
New questions about the 73-year-old Olson's health arose when he revealed Monday that he needed the leave to deal with "a medical condition that was not life-threatening." That admission, in a statement released by the school, was a change from a statement Olson issued on the day he took his leave. He said then he wanted to "reassure everyone that this isn't a health scare, but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention."
Livengood declined to discuss Olson's health, citing university personnel policy, and he referred questions to Olson, who has not spoken to reporters since he announced he was coming back.
"That probably, not probably, needs to be addressed directly with Lute and will be at some point in time," Livengood said. "I assume that's probably going to be after the end of the season when in fact he takes over his role again."
Rumors about Olson's health have swirled for more than a year. In February 2007, Olson grew irritated by speculation that he has Parkinson's disease, labeling the talk "a vicious, vicious rumor" that is "totally false."
At that time, Olson seemed concerned about how the speculation would affect recruiting. Asked on Tuesday if Olson's ability to recruit at the elite level has been compromised, Livengood said, "Good question. It's hard to say. I think in many cases, it depends on who you ask."
Olson announced that he was going on leave Nov. 4, and one month later he said he was extending it through the season -- on the same day he filed for divorce from his wife, Christine.
The timing of his return depends on the Wildcats. Seventh-seeded Arizona meets last-place Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. The Wildcats hope to extend their 23-year run of NCAA tournament appearances, the nation's longest active streak.
While Livengood confirmed Olson would return, it's unclear whether interim coach Kevin O'Neill will be back. Arizona has designated O'Neill as Olson's permanent successor when the Hall of Famer retires, but O'Neill has not committed to returning as a member of Olson's staff.
"The master plan with Kevin, at this point in time, we're going to wait and see when the season's over," Livengood said.
Arizona has given O'Neill a $350,000 raise to serve as interim coach this season on top of his $375,000 base salary as an assistant coach, Livengood said. O'Neill is not under contract for next season.
"Am I satisfied with the job Kevin has done?" Livengood said. "Absolutely. Kevin O'Neill has done an unbelievable job (that) I'm not sure too many coaches in this country could have done."
Livengood said he would meet with Olson and O'Neill soon after the season, and he acknowledged he doesn't know what might happen.
"There will be questions coming out of this," Livengood said. "If we're reading things correctly, we know what's going to happen next year. What we don't know is what's going to happen immediately after the season as we sit down."
Olson was born on a farm outside Mayville, N.D., and played high school basketball in Grand Forks, where he led his team to a state title.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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