- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Arizona assistant coach Kevin O'Neill will replace Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson as head coach at the University of Arizona whenever Olson retires, multiple sources close to the situation told ESPN.com Monday.
Sources said a formal announcement from the school is expected prior to Christmas.
There will be no formal contract at this stage of the announcement, but the succession plan has been agreed upon by all parties.
O'Neill is currently serving as the acting head coach while Olson takes a season-long leave of absence to deal with what he has described in multiple statements as personal matters.
O'Neill has coached Arizona to a 7-2 record thus far with three more nonconference games at UNLV on Wednesday, San Diego State on Saturday and at Memphis on Dec. 29 before the start of the Pac-10 (Arizona also plays at Houston on Jan. 12). Arizona's only losses were at Kansas in overtime and to Virginia at home. Arizona beat then-ranked No. 9 Texas A&M and Illinois in Chicago.
Sources said O'Neill has had high-ranking discussions at the university over the past week about making the official announcement. Sources said the announcement will detail the succession plan for Olson's retirement whenever that occurs. Olson, 73, said in statements released by the school that he planned on returning to coaching for the 2008-09 season.
Olson's divorce with his second wife, Christine, was made public last week after he made his decision to sit out the entire season even though he had attended a series of practices over the previous few weeks.
Sources said the university wanted to have an official succession plan in place so that the current players, the signed players for 2008, and those Arizona is recruiting for the coming years, understand what will happen with the program.
One source said that this will offer "more stability to what we're doing." The uncertainty of Olson's absence wanted to be minimized and an announcement of O'Neill as successor is expected to quiet any undue speculation.
Throughout the offseason, O'Neill, Olson and Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood were adamant that O'Neill wasn't brought back to Arizona last May to be Olson's successor. O'Neill was paid handsomely for a Division I assistant at $375,000 but that was said to be more because of the need to draw him away from the NBA, where he had been a longtime assistant coach as well as brief head coach with Toronto.
ONeill's hiring came at the expense of longtime Olson assistant Jim Rosborough, who took a job with Livengood in the athletic department. The reason for bringing the 50-year-old O'Neill back was to reinvigorate the Wildcats' defensive approach and provide even more energy during practices.
O'Neill worked for Olson during its rise to power in 1986-89. He was an NBA assistant for three teams and a head coach of the Raptors. He served as a college head coach at Northwestern, Marquette and Tennessee.
Succession plans are not uncommon. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has said assistant Mike Hopkins will replace him whenever he retires. Tom Izzo had one in place to succeed his boss Jud Heathcote at Michigan State. Sean Sutton was tabbed as the successor at Oklahoma State for his father Eddie Sutton. The same was true for Tony Bennett at Washington State for his father Dick Bennett. At Texas Tech, Pat Knight is the successor to his father, Bob Knight, whenever he retires. Mark Few was made the successor to Dan Monson at Gonzaga when he was an assistant to Monson.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.