Lute Olson, the legendary coach who put Arizona Wildcats basketball on the map, has died at age 85, his wife Kelly told Stadium’s Jeff Goodman on Thursday night.
The cause of death is unknown at this time, but Olson has long battled health issues, including a stroke in February 2019 that hospitalized him. KVOA reported Tuesday that he was in hospice care.
Hired away from Iowa in 1983, Olson posted a 589-187 record in 24 seasons (1983-2007) at Arizona, the highest winning percentage in school history among the head coaches who coached more than 100 games.
A seven-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, Olson guided the Wildcats to 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, 11 conference titles, four Final Fours and the 1997 national championship.
A soft-spoken man who never cursed, Olson was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 as one of only three coaches at the time to record 29 or more 20-win seasons.
The North Dakota native went 24-2 in one season at Long Beach State and 167-91 in nine seasons at Iowa, where he led the Hawkeyes to a Final Four and departed as the program’s all-time wins leader.
Olson took over an Arizona team that had gone 4-24 in the previous season, and almost immediately turned the program around, leading them to the NCAA Tournament in 1985, only his second season at the helm.
The Wildcats were a fixture in the NCAA Tournament every year until health problems forced Olson to retire. He took a leave of absence before the 2006-07 season after suffering an undiagnosed stroke that left his with severe depression and an irregular heartbeat.
Olson was originally going to return to the sideline the following season, but wound up retiring a month before the 2007-08 campaign.
The UA erected a statue of Olson outside McKale Center in April 2018, ensuring his presence will remain around Arizona basketball forever.
Rest easy, Lute pic.twitter.com/G1r4KgWAii— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) August 28, 2020