Already on leave of absence, Arizona's Olson getting divorced

Updated: December 8, 2007, 3:57 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson filed for divorce from his second wife.

Olson filed a divorce petition in Pima County Superior Court on Thursday, the same day the 73-year-old coach said he would extend his leave from the team through the end of the season, Olson's lawyer, Leonard Karp, said Friday.

"The marriage has been irretrievably broken with no reasonable prospect of reconciliation," Karp said.

He said that Christine Olson is still living in Tucson but that he did not know whether she would remain in the city. He said he did not know whether Lute Olson was in Tucson on Friday.

"His request basically was that people honor his privacy," said Karp, who added that he was authorized to speak on Olson's behalf.

"He's taken a lot of time to make this decision," the attorney said. "I think he needs the time to resolve these matters. Our hope is that once Christine retains her attorney that we can sit down and amicably resolve things."

Olson announced his leave Nov. 4 and said the reasons were personal and not health-related.

Sources close to Olson have told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that there are personal issues beyond the divorce that led to the leave of absence.

In a statement released by the university Thursday announcing Olson's leave extension, the Hall of Famer said he plans to return to coach the Wildcats (5-2) 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.

Karp said he didn't believe Olson would rescind his leave in light of the divorce filing.

"I think his statement is his true feelings, that he will be back next year but that he needs this time during this season to resolve his personal problem," Karp said.

Legal records supervisor Ray Rivas in the Superior Court clerk's office said court rules bar public scrutiny of divorce petitions until the filer's spouse has been served or 45 days have passed.

The filing was first reported online by the Tucson Citizen and the Arizona Daily Star.

"Our family has been struggling through a difficult and private matter for some months now," Christine Olson said in a statement. "It was our hope that during my husband's temporary leave of absence, we would be able to focus on our family and successfully address this matter. Unfortunately, it seems that my husband has reached a decision that he is unable to continue our relationship together during this difficult time.

"While I am personally devastated I remain committed to my marriage and will continue to support my husband through this difficult time in his life. I have nothing but love and respect for him. I want to thank everyone in advance for your support and prayers. We request that the media please respect our family's privacy at this time," she said.

Athletic director Jim Livengood, in Chicago with the team, said: "There's no comment from me. It's a personal family matter and should be addressed appropriately."

The Wildcats (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) play Illinois on Saturday.

Olson has coached Arizona for 24 seasons and posted a 589-187 record 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.

Assistant Kevin O'Neill, who is serving as interim coach while Olson is gone, said Friday he wants Olson's privacy respected. He said he's doing the best he can to fill in for "someone who is true greatness."

"I have great respect and admiration for what our players have done to this point in terms of focusing on basketball only in a very difficult situation -- a situation that, really, there's no blueprint for," O'Neill said.

Senior guard Jawann McClellan said the players want Olson back "100 percent."

"We wanted Coach Olson back more than anything, but first of all, we want him to do well and take care of Coach Olson," McClellan said. "A lot of people don't realize that he's still human."

Olson and his first wife, Bobbi, were married for 47 years before her 2001 death from ovarian cancer after a 2½-year fight. The couple had five children.

She served an active role in Olson's basketball program, joining him on recruiting trips and even cooking pancakes for prospective players when they came to visit Tucson. Former players revered her for being so instrumental in creating a family atmosphere. The university renamed the basketball court Lute & Bobbi Olson Court after her death.

In April 2003, Olson married Christine Jack Toretti -- a prominent, politically active Pennsylvania businesswoman who is 22 years his junior.

Toretti, who took Olson's last name after their wedding, remains chief executive of an oil and gas drilling company and sits on several corporate boards. She has three sons from her first marriage.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

ALSO SEE