Olson, citing personal reasons, won't return this year
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson said Thursday night he would extend his leave of absence through the end of this season, citing undisclosed family matters that require his attention.
In a statement released by the university, the 73-year-old Hall of Famer said he plans to return to coach the Wildcats for the 2008-09 season.
"There are personal issues within my family that need to be addressed and I must devote my full energy to that," Olson said in the statement.
Athletic director Jim Livengood said assistant coach Kevin O'Neill will continue to serve as interim coach for the rest of this season. The 22nd-ranked Wildcats (5-2) are at Illinois on Sunday.
Livengood said the university supports Olson's decision.
"All of us at the University of Arizona want what is best for Lute and his family," Livengood said. "He has brought immeasurable good to our program and the university and we want him to know that we are supportive and wish him nothing but the best as he tends to these issues."
Katz: Decision Needed
Lute Olson needed to give Arizona a final decision about this season. Now that he has stepped away for the season, he has earned the right to publicly deal with his "personal issues", writes Andy Katz. Story
Olson requested a leave of absence on Nov. 4, asking the public and media to respect his privacy. He has attended a few practices since then but has said little publicly.
"After consultation with my famiy, I have decided to extend my leave of absence for the remainder of the current basketball season," Olson said. "I do this with great reluctance because I care greatly about the University of Arizona, the basketball program and the players on this team. But there are personal issues within my family that need to addressed, and I must devote my full energy to that.
"I plan to return to coach the University of Arizona next year," he said. "In the meantime, my heart will be with the team, the coaches and the staff."
Olson is 589-187 in 24 seasons at Arizona and 780-280 overall as a college head coach. Until this season, Olson had missed only seven games in 24 seasons with the Wildcats. Six came after the death of his wife Bobbi during the 2000-01 season, and one was against La Salle due to a back injury in 1994.
"To our basketball fans and the community, I ask for your patience in allowing me the time to attend to my personal situation," Olson said. "I am most grateful for the statements of support and prayers that have been offered and look forward to a return to more normal activities in the months ahead."
The Wildcats were traveling to Chicago on Thursday night.
O'Neill, a former Olson assistant, rejoined the Arizona staff last spring to help shore up the defense. The Wildcats upset then-No. 9 Texas A&M on Sunday in McKale Center.
"Kevin has done an absolutely superb job stepping in for Lute," Livengood said. "We have enormous confidence in his ability to lead the team in Lute's absence."
The young Wildcats have been improving despite the attention swirling around the program since Olson stepped away. Arizona is trying to extend its string of 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the nation's longest active streak, and win 20 games for the 21st straight season.
"I have spoken to the team and they fully understand Lute's decision," O'Neill said. "It has been a challenge for them to deal with the uncertainty surrounding this. But they have handled it with extraordinary grace and are fully focused on the season ahead."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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