Robert Luther "Lute" Olson (born September 22, 1934 in Mayville, North Dakota) is the current men's basketball head coach at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. He is one of the UA's highest-paid employees, though a substantial percentage of his salary is supplemented by private interests (primarily UA alumni organizations). The 2006–07 season marks his 24th season with Arizona and 34th season at the Division I college level. Olson is known for player development, and many of his former players have gone on to impressive careers in the NBA after playing under him.
Head Coaching Career
Prior to his tenure with the Arizona Wildcats, Olson coached the University of Iowa and Long Beach State basketball teams. In his first and only season at Long Beach State, he led them to an undefeated conference record and a Big West conference championship. He led Iowa to a Final Four appearance in 1980, losing to eventual NCAA champion Louisville in the National Semifinal. After leading the Hawkeyes to the Sweet Sixteen in 1983, Olson surprised many by leaving Iowa for an Arizona program that was one of the worst in the nation. He said he left Iowa because life there had become a "fishbowl" and he needed a change.
Under Olson, Arizona quickly rose to national prominence. Arizona won its first Pac-10 title in 1986, only three years after his arrival. Two years later, Arizona spent much of the season ranked #1 and made their first (and Olson's second) Final Four. Olson's teams have been a perennially ranked since then.
Olson has been voted Pac-10 Coach of the Year seven times. He has made five Final Four appearances. In Arizona's 1997 appearance, his team went on to win the NCAA Division I Men's Championship. During that 1997 March Madness tournament, his team accomplished the unprecedented and unequaled feat of beating three number one seeds in the same tournament.
Olson also coached the 1986 FIBA World Championship team, the last U.S. amateur basketball team to win in international competition. His team defeated the Soviet Union, 87-85, in the Gold Medal Game. It marked the first time the U.S. had won the World Championship in 32 years.
Player Development at Arizona
Throughout the nineties and 2000s, Arizona under Olson was of the top producers of NBA talent in terms of number of alumni playing in the league. Many of these players (such as Steve Kerr, Jason Terry, and Gilbert Arenas) were not highly regarded on a national level in high school but flourished under Olson's system to eventually become college stars and productive NBA players.
The basketball program at Arizona has been dubbed "Point Guard U" because of the numerous players who have excelled at that position, including Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, and Jason Terry (additionally, point guards Reggie Geary and Matt Othick both played briefly in the NBA and Kenny Lofton went on to become an All-Star centerfielder in Major League Baseball). All-American Jason Gardner (graduated in 2003) has so far been the only starting Arizona point guard to not have played any NBA minutes since before Steve Kerr in 1984.
Despite this reputation, Arizona under Olson has also developed many outstanding shooting guards and swingmen: Sean Elliott, Gilbert Arenas, Jud Buechler, Khalid Reeves, Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson, Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton, Andre Iguodala, Salim Stoudamire, and Hassan Adams all excelled with the Wildcats, and many went on to stardom in the NBA.
Fewer Arizona big men have made such a big impact in the NBA, but Olson has coached several notables: forward Tom Tolbert and centers Brian Williams (later renamed Bison Dele), Sean Rooks, Loren Woods, and Channing Frye have also made careers in the NBA.