Olson will take indefinite leave of absence due to personal matter

Updated: November 4, 2007, 7:19 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Lute Olson is taking a leave of absence for unspecified personal reasons.

In a statement issued by his public relations firm on Sunday, the 73-year-old Hall of Famer said the matter was not health related.

"For the past 25 years, I have always given 110 percent to the team and this job," Olson said. "In light of this personal matter, I feel it is in the best interest of the team and the University of Arizona to take a leave of absence."

Olson said he wanted to "reassure everyone that this isn't a health scare, but rather a personal matter that needs my undivided attention."

The specific reason was not given.

"I want to thank everyone in advance for their support and prayers and request that the media respect my family's privacy during this time," he said.

Assistant coach Kevin O'Neill will assume Olson's duties in his absence.

"Lute will be back coaching our team shortly," O'Neill said before 17th-ranked Arizona beat Concordia 68-50 in an exhibition game Sunday. "He has been a great ambassador of the game. He has led our team for 25 years, and he will continue to lead our team for a long time."

Olson has a 780-280 record in 34 seasons as a major college coach. In 24 years at Arizona, he is 589-187 with 23 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. His Wildcats have won 11 Pac-10 championships, reached the Final Four four times and won the 1997 NCAA title.

"This is a guy who cares about a lot of things, not just a guy who caress about a round ball going through a hoop," athletic director Jim Livengood said. "He cares about people, and he cares about kids and everything -- everything. Right now he has things he wants to take care of. We are going to honor that."

Olson took an extended leave of absence in 2001 when his wife Bobbie was terminally ill with cancer. He eventually returned and led that Arizona team to the Final Four. Olson has since remarried.

"We will allow Lute this time that he needs," Livengood said. "That time schedule has not been set. He will be the person who will determine that. Today, we are going to move forward. Kevin O'Neill has taken responsibility to lead our basketball team and our basketball program."

Livengood and O'Neill met with the team on Sunday.

"Lute recruited every one of those guys," O'Neill said. "They love him. They admire him, and they respect him, and they know what he stands for. They handled it very well. They are concerned for Lute personally, not how they will respond."

O'Neill, a former Olson assistant who returned to the program this offseason, has been a head coach at Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern. He said he expected to talk with Olson regularly.

"I feel bad for the players and for the community," O'Neill said. "Let's face it, we deserve every bit of Lute that we can get. I came here to coach with Lute and coach at the University of Arizona. I love this city and I love Lute. I thought it was the right thing to do. It is not how I feel about how I feel or what is going on with me.

"My main concern is Lute and [his wife] Christine and the players. That is where my focus will be."

Arizona opens its regular season Nov. 13 at home against Northern Arizona.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press