TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson said
Thursday night he would extend his leave of absence through the end
of this season, citing undisclosed family matters that require his
In a statement released by the university, the 73-year-old Hall
of Famer said he plans to return to coach the Wildcats for the
"There are personal issues within my family that need to be
addressed and I must devote my full energy to that," Olson said in
Athletic director Jim Livengood said assistant coach Kevin
O'Neill will continue to serve as interim coach for the rest of
this season. The 22nd-ranked Wildcats (5-2) are at Illinois on
Livengood said the university supports Olson's decision.
"All of us at the University of Arizona want what is best for
Lute and his family," Livengood said. "He has brought
immeasurable good to our program and the university and we want him
to know that we are supportive and wish him nothing but the best as
he tends to these issues."
Olson requested a leave of absence on Nov. 4, asking the public
and media to respect his privacy. He has attended a few practices
since then but has said little publicly.
"After consultation with my famiy, I have decided to extend my
leave of absence for the remainder of the current basketball
season," Olson said. "I do this with great reluctance because I
care greatly about the University of Arizona, the basketball
program and the players on this team. But there are personal issues
within my family that need to addressed, and I must devote my full
energy to that.
"I plan to return to coach the University of Arizona next
year," he said. "In the meantime, my heart will be with the team,
the coaches and the staff."
Olson is 589-187 in 24 seasons at Arizona and 780-280 overall as
a college head coach. Until this season, Olson had missed only
seven games in 24 seasons with the Wildcats. Six came after the
death of his wife Bobbi during the 2000-01 season, and one was
against La Salle due to a back injury in 1994.
"To our basketball fans and the community, I ask for your
patience in allowing me the time to attend to my personal
situation," Olson said. "I am most grateful for the statements of
support and prayers that have been offered and look forward to a
return to more normal activities in the months ahead."
The Wildcats were traveling to Chicago on Thursday night.
O'Neill, a former Olson assistant, rejoined the Arizona staff
last spring to help shore up the defense. The Wildcats upset
then-No. 9 Texas A&M on Sunday in McKale Center.
"Kevin has done an absolutely superb job stepping in for
Lute," Livengood said. "We have enormous confidence in his
ability to lead the team in Lute's absence."
The young Wildcats have been improving despite the attention
swirling around the program since Olson stepped away. Arizona is
trying to extend its string of 23 straight NCAA tournament
appearances, the nation's longest active streak, and win 20 games
for the 21st straight season.
"I have spoken to the team and they fully understand Lute's
decision," O'Neill said. "It has been a challenge for them to
deal with the uncertainty surrounding this. But they have handled
it with extraordinary grace and are fully focused on the season