“I feel the potential is here at Arizona. It won’t be a case of waving a wand and suddenly it happens. It will take time and it will be exciting. You build a program with good people. Good people in the long run will build a successful program. We will work as hard as we can to provide a first-class program.” — Lute Olson during his introductory press conference at Arizona on March 29, 1983.
This is the 30th anniversary of Ben Lindsey’s only season at Arizona. Why is that worth noting, especially since the Wildcats finished with their worst record (4-24) in the program’s history that season?
Because if the 1982-83 season wasn’t so awful, Arizona probably would not have hired Olson the following season.
As detailed by John Moredich in his book Arizona Wildcats Handbook (published in 1996), former UA athletic director Dave Strack actually pursued Olson before hiring Lindsey away from Grand Canyon University. Strack contacted Iowa athletic director Bump Elliott to get permission to speak with Olson about the Arizona vacancy, created after Fred Snowden resigned.
Olson declined the opportunity to speak with Strack because he “couldn’t in good conscience leave prior to the year we would be in Carver-Hawkeye Arena to play,” he is quoted as saying in Moredich’s book. The Hawkeyes played their first game at Carver-Hawkeye on Jan. 5, 1983. Less than three months later, Olson was hired by Strack’s successor — Cedric Dempsey — at Arizona after the Wildcats’ miserable season resulted in Lindsey’s dismissal.
The announcement of Lindsey’s hire in 1982 was on April Fool’s Day. Strack hired Lindsey, who coached Grand Canyon to two NAIA titles, two hours after Kansas State’s Jack Hartman turned the Arizona job down. Strack resigned his post in July 1982. Dempsey was hired as his replacement, the first piece in the puzzle toward the hiring of Olson and the success of the Arizona program, which included a national title in 1996-97.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner