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Olson's Teams Became Hawkeye Royalty

The arrival of a new men's basketball coach led to a new era that hasn't been forgotten.

It is interesting looking back on the time that Lute Olson was Iowa's men's basketball coach and try to compare it to today's modern era.

Consider that, in Olson's second and third seasons with the Hawkeyes (1975-77), Iowa won 39 games ... and didn't make the NCAA Tournament.

Back then, of course, 32 teams made the tournament, so getting in was almost like winning the lottery.

His fourth team, in 1977-78, won 12 games, and only five games in the Big Ten.

That's four seasons of not making the NCAA Tournament, and two losing seasons.

Today, that gets a coach fired.

Back then, those seasons were the building blocks to a run that made Olson a Hawkeye legend, and made the players from that era Hawkeye royalty.

The 1979 team won 20 games, shared the Big Ten title, and made it to the NCAA Tournament.

The 1980 team won 23 games, and reached the Final Four, and probably could have won the national title had guard Ronnie Lester not gotten hurt in the national semifinal against Louisville.

The 1981, 1982 and 1983 teams also made it to the NCAA Tournament, the last one reaching the regional semifinals.

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Iowa basketball was a must-see in that era when it wasn't 500 channels and every game is on TV.

Iowa's Field House was a facility that was cramped, aging, and positively glorious.

Hawkeye games were on television — Big Ten Thursday nights were when everything stopped. Or you listened on the radio, the various legendary voices telling you a story, your choice of voice based on your preference.

You knew the names of the players — Lester, Hansen, Boyle, Krafcisin, Arnold. In those last few seasons — Stokes, Payne, Carfino. If you look through the media guide, all of those names come alive, and you can see how one team built the next. 

In the hours after Iowa defeated Georgetown to go to the Final Four, fans packed the Field House to welcome the Hawkeyes home from Philadelphia and to honor the national championship wrestling team.

But it wasn't just basketball.

Dan Gable had built a dynasty with wrestling. Athletic director Bump Elliott hired Hayden Fry to take over the football program, and by 1981 the Hawkeyes were in the Rose Bowl. Soon, C. Vivian Stringer would be hired to build an impressive women's basketball program.

Olson's success helped lead to the building of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was loud in 1983 when it opened, Olson's last season, and it still can be loud today. But it never had that claustrophobic cacophony of the Field House.

Olson would leave to go coach at Arizona, and turn that program into a national power. The Iowa emotions ranged from mourning to anger, but the fans would forgive.

Those who were around back then remember that era with reverence. Winters were fun because of Olson and his teams, and fans never forgot that.

It's what they remembered on Thursday night with Olson's passing, an embrace of an era that seems so long ago.