O'Neill replaces Rosborough on Olson's staff

Updated: May 1, 2007, 6:23 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Lute Olson named Kevin O'Neill on Tuesday to replace longtime aide Jim Rosborough, who has rejected an offer to move elsewhere in the athletic department.

The staff shakeup comes after one of the more disappointing seasons in Olson's 24-year tenure at Arizona. The Wildcats won 12 of their first 13 games and climbed to a No. 7 ranking before collapsing in Pac-10 play. They lost to Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Many of Arizona's problems stemmed from an inability -- or refusal -- to play defense. O'Neill stressed defense as the head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern.

"I've always been a guy who thought defenses win championships and most games," O'Neill said. "I would say that I'm a defensive-oriented guy."

This is the second time O'Neill has worked for Olson. He also served as his assistant from 1986-89 at Arizona.

O'Neill dismissed speculation that he has been pegged as the eventual successor to the 72-year-old Olson, who has said he has no plans to retire.

"That has never been talked about at all," O'Neill said. "That's never been talked about with myself or with Lute or with [athletic director] Jim Livengood. That's not part of the equation as far as I'm concerned."

Asked about his long-term future, O'Neill smiled and replied, "I'm not sure I have a long-term future, to be honest with you."

O'Neill has been in the NBA since 2000 as head coach at Toronto and an assistant with three other clubs. He took last year off and said he chose to come to Arizona over head coaching offers from other schools, which he declined to name.

"The thing that really intrigued me was coming back to Arizona," O'Neill said. "This was a good opportunity that happened at the right time."

Because the NCAA allows only three assistants on the bench, O'Neill's hiring meant someone had to go. Former Wildcat players Josh Pastner and Miles Simon are Olson's other assistants.

The 50-year-old O'Neill represents a departure from Rosborough. As Arizona's associate head coach, the 62-year-old Rosborough was Olson's genial sidekick, often filling in for his boss in media interviews.

Rosborough served under Olson for 18 years at Arizona and nine at Iowa, Rosborough's alma mater. Rosborough went 28-56 in three seasons as head coach at Northern Illinois from 1986-89.

Last season's media guide lauded Rosborough for his dedication to Olson.

"His expertise and familiarity with the Olson system is one of the driving forces that sustains the Arizona program as one of the finest in the country, both on and off the court," the guide said.

When Olson's wife, Bobbi, died in January 2001, Rosborough served as Arizona's interim coach, leading the team to a 3-1 Pac-10 record in Olson's absence. After the Wildcats reached the national final that spring, many in the program credited Rosborough with helping to hold the team together during a difficult period.

Rosborough could not be reached for comment. Last week, he told the Arizona Daily Star he would not accept Olson's offer of non-coaching position.

"I'm done," Rosborough said. "I'm a non-person right now."

Rosborough replaced O'Neill on Olson's staff in 1989, when O'Neill left to become the head coach at Marquette.

O'Neill said he hadn't spoken to Rosborough.

"I have the utmost respect for Jim Rosborough as a coach," O'Neill said. "I think he's had a great career coaching basketball, and he was a big part of this program for a long time. I think the world of him."

O'Neill is known for an acerbic wit and has never been afraid to challenge players, either in college or the NBA.

"I have no problem pushing guys," O'Neill said.

O'Neill comes to a program that has slipped from the national elite.

On Jan. 4, Arizona had won 12 straight games and was ranked seventh in the nation. The Wildcats had seemingly established themselves as national title contenders and looked ready for a run to the school's fifth Final Four.

The Wildcats went 8-10 the rest of the way. One of the losses was monumental: fourth-ranked North Carolina came into McKale Center on Jan. 27 and drubbed Arizona 92-64 in a nationally televised game. It was the worst home loss in Olson's tenure.

Asked what was wrong with Arizona's program, O'Neill noted the program's streak of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

"To me, there's not much wrong here, to be honest with you," O'Neill said. "If that's wrong, I think we'd all take that. I just hope that I can add something and help the team be better every day, help Lute do a better job."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press