What They Said About Lute Olson

Lute Olson lived to be 85 years old, born Sept. 22, 1934, in Mayville, N.D., which has a population of only about 1,800 now.

From such humble beginnings, Olson had a massive impact on Arizona basketball and the landscape of college basketball, adding the Wildcats to the list of the traditionally successful programs. Arizona became synonymous with UCLA, North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, etc. Nobody could have predicted that before Olson was hired following Arizona’s 4-24 season in 1982-83.

Lute and Bobbi Olson embracing after Arizona won the national title in 1997 (YouTube video capture)
Lute and his late wife, Bobbi Olson, embracing after Arizona won the national title in 1997 (YouTube video capture)

In a celebration of Olson’s life here are some memorable quotes about him:

“Coach (Lute) Olson’s teams are always fundamentally sound, but equally important is his ability to get outstanding individuals to work into the team concept. … He has both the love and respect of all who know him well and the respect of all those who understand the great sport of basketball.”John Wooden, as quoted in Olson’s book Lute!: The Seasons of My Life

“It’s an emotional experience. I was told there was 10,000 Iowa people in Kansas City (at the Final Four) with no tickets. They’d driven down there hoping to find some. That kind of enthusiasm is hard to give up, but I think the U of A is a sleeping giant. It’s not as if the U of A has never been successful in basketball. I think I sold Lute on the fact there are strong resources here. It was my best recruiting job.” Former Arizona athletic director Cedric Dempsey at Olson’s introductory press conference on March 29, 1983, after he hired Olson away from Iowa.


Born: Sept. 22, 1934, Mayville, N.D.

Passed Away: Aug. 27, 2020, Tucson

Playing career

1953–1956 Augsburg College

Coaching career

1956–1957 Mahnomen HS

1957–1961 Two Harbors HS

1962–1963 Western HS (asst.)

1963–1964 Loara HS 1964–1969

Marina HS 1969–1973

Long Beach CC 1973–1974

Long Beach State 1974–1983

Iowa 1983–2008 Arizona

Head coaching record

Overall 781–280 (.736)

Accomplishments and honors


NCAA Division I Tournament Championship (1997)

Regional Championships – Final Four (1980, 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001)

Pac-10 Tournament Championship (1988, 1989, 1990, 2002)

Pac-10 Regular Season Championship (1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005)

Big West Regular Season Championship (1974)

Big Ten Regular Season Championship (1979)


National Coach of the Year (1988, 1990)

Pac-10 Coach of the Year (1986, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2003)

Big Ten Coach of the Year (1979, 1981)

CBS-TV Coach of the Year (1989)

Basketball Hall of Fame, inducted in 2002

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, the whole team has made one (New Year’s resolution). We’ve resolved to work really hard to help Coach Olson kick this heroin habit of his because it’s really been getting us down lately.”Steve Kerr in a humorous radio interview with former team manager Todd Walsh after a game.

“There’s been a love affair between the team and the community since Lute’s been here.”Dempsey in an interview with the New York Times.

“A family led by a man who should be in the Hall of Fame and who has taught Luke about life and about basketball. Lute Olson is to Luke what Coach Wooden is to me.”Legendary UCLA center Bill Walton commenting about Olson’s impact on his son in a Los Angeles Times article in 2002.

John Wooden's shadow is cast over UCLA to this day
Legendary coach John Wooden once said about Lute Olson: “He has both the love and respect of all who know him well and the respect of all those who understand the great sport of basketball.”

“Coach O is a teacher. He could be 90-something, and he’s still going to be teaching … Coach may not even say anything. He’ll just look at you, you know, like ‘What are you doing?’ You know, that look. Even if you don’t look at the bench, you can feel it in the back of your head.”Former Arizona center Channing Frye in a Los Angeles Times story in 2004 when Olson was still coaching strong at 70.

“I think my freshman year was my best year as far as our relationship because all I did was listen to him. I thought every word he said was wisdom. My sophomore and junior year, I kind of disagreed with him on some things and we’d clash. This year, I’m trying to revert back to my freshman days and just listen to what he says. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a Hall of Fame coach.”Former Arizona guard Salim Stoudamire, in the same Times article, talking about his turbulent relationship with Olson that was smoothed over by the end of his career.

A 2019 gathering of Lute Olson and his former players at the Lute Olson Fantasy Basketball Camp (Lute Olson Fantasy Basketball camp photo)

“I think he was bound to win one. I was going to try and win one for him while I was here.”Former Arizona guard Mike Bibby commenting in a postgame press conference about winning a national title in 1997 for Olson.

“He’s the one who has launched this program. People here love him, absolutely love him. If Lute Olson started selling pop tomorrow, I don’t care what kind it is, he’d sell it out.”Former prominent Tucson businessman and Arizona booster George Kalil, of the Kalil Bottling Co., who passed away recently, commenting about Olson in a 1990 Los Angeles Times article.

“Just so you know, one of the reasons that I sit here today is because of the great legacy that you built and the feeling that the world and the nation have about Arizona Basketball stems from you. You being here means the world.”Sean Miller speaking to Olson in his introductory press conference on April 7, 2009.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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