Remembering a former Auggie: Coach Lute Olson

Kevin Sethre, Staff Writer

Hall of Fame basketball coach Lute Olson, who played college basketball at Augsburg before going on to win 781 games over a long coaching career at Long Beach State, Iowa and Arizona, passed away at the age of 85 on August 27.

Coach Olson played four years of basketball and football at Augsburg and earned all-conference honors in basketball for his senior season.

His college coaching career began at Long Beach State, where he spent one season, 1973-74, and led them to an undefeated conference record, finishing 24-2 overall. He went to Iowa next and led them to five NCAA Tournament appearances in a nine-year span, including a Final Four appearance in 1980.

The majority of Olson’s career was spent at Arizona, where his Wildcats made 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments, four Final Four appearances, won eleven Pac-10 titles, and won the school’s only national title in 1997. 

His 1996-97 champion Wildcats team, which featured future NBA stars Mike Bibby and Jason Terry and was led by the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Miles Simon, became the only team to defeat three number one seeds in the tournament since its bracket was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.  After upsetting the top overall seed Kansas Jayhawks in the Sweet Sixteen and knocking off the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Final Four, the Olson-coached Arizona Wildcats won 84-79 in a thrilling overtime game over Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats.Coach Olson became known for taking high school prospects who were not highly regarded and turning them into NBA talents.  He coached dozens of future NBA players, including Bibby, Terry, Simon, Steve Kerr, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Andre Igoudala, and Channing Frye.  He is one of only five Division I coaches with at least 20 straight seasons with at least 20 wins, putting him in the company of fellow coaching legends Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, and Mark Few. He is currently 12th on the list of most career coaching wins.