Hall of Fame basketball coach Lute Olson, who guided the Arizona Wildcats to their only NCAA championship in 1997, has died at the age of 85, the university confirmed on Thursday.
A North Dakota native, Olson started coaching high school basketball in Minnesota before he moved to California. He coached at Long Beach City College for four years and then Olson made stops at Long Beach State (1973-74) for one season where he went 24-2.
He then took the coaching job at the University of Iowa (1974-1983). In the nine seasons coaching the Hawkeyes, Olson tallied a record of 167-91 (.647) that included six 20-win seasons, a Big Ten title in 1979 and the 1980 Final Four. He departed Iowa as the program’s all-time wins leader.
The move from Iowa to Arizona was somewhat surprising, given his success at the Big Ten school and Arizona’s relative lack of basketball tradition. Olson brought Arizona into basketball prominence.
Olson coached Arizona from 1983-2007 and compiled a 589-187 record. His teams made 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and won the 1997 national title. Overall, he had a career mark of 776-285 in 34 seasons.
Olson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. A statue of Olson stands outside McKale Memorial Center, Arizona’s home arena.
Olson is survived by his third wife Kelly Pugnea (married in 2010). He was married to his first wife, Roberta “Bobbi” Russell, for 47 years. The two had five children. Bobbi Olson died on Jan. 1, 2001 of ovarian cancer at age 65. The basketball court at Arizona’s McKale Center is named the “Lute and Bobbi Olson Court.”
All of us at The DC Patriot send our our heartfelt condolences, thoughts, and prayers to the family.