Friday, October 24, 2008

Goodbye Robert Luther Olson, Thank you.

The reactions, though not surprising, about Lute Olson have been very mixed. Unfortunately, one of the majority opinions is that Lute Olson handled this terribly and should have just stayed retired after last seasons leave of absence. I completely understand this thought and theory and whole-heartedly agree that his return and abrupt exit less than three weeks to tip-off is not good. That Arizona is now floundering going into the season. The fact that it happened on Homecoming weekend and the fact that it happened 48 hours after saying he was revitalized and energized.

This definitely was a terrible way to handle this. The UA alumni, fans, and faithful (namely me) deserve better than this and above all the players and UA staff deserved better than this. But don't blame Lute. Robert Luther may have handled this poorly but it was the right decision. He is not physically or mentally there anymore. I'm not suggestion he has Parkinson's or Alzheimer's (I'm sure those are not the issues he's been dealing with) I'm just suggesting that he is 74 years old, has been a Division I coach since 1973 and has been the driving force in Arizona Basketball for the last 25 years. That takes a toll on someone. It asks a lot out of people.

People have been saying that Paterno and Bowden (81 and 78) should step down for a few years now, but people are in a rage when Lute Olson needs to take a year off and proceeds to step down. Well besides the fact that they are all in the same age range coaching basketball at a high level takes a lot more out of someone than football. First of all Lute will be coaching at a high energy level for 3 times as many games NOT including the high stress NCAA Tournament. Rather than traveling 5-7 times over the course of a season and post-season, Lute will be traveling at least 14 times, again more if you include the tense post-season.

Energy levels are huge in basketball coaching, there is no press box to sit in and coach from. Lute is on the sidelines running, jumping, and screaming. So let's think about this, think of a 74 year old that you know and ask whether or not you think they would be able to travel that much, run that much, and coach at a high level in a very compacted season. So get off of Lute for retiring, hell I would say he earned it. And I know what you are saying, then why did he commit to coming back for another year if he knew he couldn't handle it. There are two reasons.

1) He loves Arizona Basketball and wants nothing but success for them. With him taking the year off last year Arizona Basketball got a preview of what Arizona Basketball A.L. would be like, and it wasn't pretty. He saw what Arizona Basketball would be like without him and he didn't like it. Players leaving for Europe, players de-commiting, scholarship offers (from KO) to players who didn't deserve to be Wildcats, and a sub 20 win season. As someone who loves Arizona Basketball more than even you or me, or Randle, Lute Olson didn't want to sit by and watch that. In April when he decided to come back, he knew that the only thing that would take this program back to where it was, was his return. He announced that he no longer wanted to deal with the one and done players, and he went out and got Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise to return. He got Soloman Hill and Abdul Gaddy to commit/re-commit. The Silver Fox was back. That's why he announced months ago that he would be coming back, he told everyone, as recently as last week, that he was ready to take the Cats back to the Promised Land. But...

2)...he didn't have the energy, physical, or mental ability to be there as a coach. He could have come back, coached from the bench, been half hearted, and been JoePa from the Press Box. Lute is too proud for that. He wanted, really wanted to come back and coach Arizona back to the Final Four. Not for his glory or the payday, but because the Cats deserve that, Arizona fans deserve that, after last season. He knew that he needed to be the person to do it. He went into practice last week a new man. Re-energized and revitalized but he realized (and honestly better now than on November 7) that he might be energized right now, he might be able to be the Silver Fox that we all know and love....for 2 maybe 3 months. But the travel, the tournaments, the planning, the practicing, the coaching, the always present off-court issues, the questions all season about how long he would be there and how he was feeling, and the questions about his bitter divorce (which I still say should have remained private and shame on all of those, especially local area "journalists" who dragged it all out into public) not to mention the toll of recruiting. He realized as early as possible that he didn't have it anymore. On Tuesday he had to deal with questions and a press conference, then on Wednesday he woke up and he didn't have the energy to go to practice or the Rotary Club Preseason meeting he had attended for over 20 years, consecutively. Wednesday night it became very clear, that he didn't have the energy.

How it was handled from there can only be partially put on him. He should have gone immediately to the Arizona Athletics Department, but he didn't. Whether it was the fact that he wanted more time, or didn't want to interrupt Homecoming weekend, or to allow to his speaking to the team first at a Thursday practice. Somehow, someone close to him caught word and it spread to the point that he had to come out with it in a less than respectful manor.

It's the blessing and the curse of having a program with such a legend at its' epicenter. Recruiting will struggle, and the team will struggle without Lute. I for one wish Lute nothing but the best, Thank you Coach O for the last Quarter Century, Thank you for turning Arizona into a power. Bear Down and Go Cats.