Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood confirmed Thursday that coach Lute Olson has retired. SI.com caught up with senior writer Grant Wahl, who has been in Tuscon for the last few weeks reporting on Olson.
SI.com: As far as you know, why did he decide to step down?
Grant Wahl: I think part of it is health related. I don't know for certain about that just because he's very private, so I don't want to speculate. Clearly it's a situation where he just doesn't feel like he can continue. I've spent a lot of time in Tucson lately. I was looking to do a story on Olson for the magazine, and it was clear to me that something was up. I had arranged an interview two weeks ago and he cancelled it at the last second. Eventually, I did interviews with his assistant and did speak with Olson last Wednesday for half an hour. It was clear at that point that he wasn't as energized as he had been in April when he announced that he was coming back. I left that meeting thinking something might be up, and so I'm not entirely surprised by this news.
SI.com: What about earlier this week when he said that everything was looking good entering the season?
GW: I don't know. I was struggling with trying to figure out whether it was just an example of a coach who was starting a season that had a lot of challenges and being a coach and being discouraged, or if this was something where he was really having second thoughts about whether he wanted to come back.
SI.com: What will this mean for Arizona?
GW: Well, this is a team that probably at best will be second or third in the Pac-10 and maybe in a middle-of-the-pack team in the conference. Chase Budinger is back, which is a good thing for Arizona. Jerryd Bayless is not back. Brandon Jennings was the top high school recruit in the country and signed with Arizona but ended up playing basketball in Italy. They're pretty thin at guard, but you have Budinger, then you have Jordan Hill down low. This is not a top-20 team in my mind. I feel badly for the players; these guys have gone through a ton in the last two years and a lot of them I talked to said they were pretty miserable last year. They didn't sign on to play for Kevin O'Neill and they certainly didn't sign on now to play for three coaches who didn't recruit them.
SI.com: What about future recruiting?
GW: They had landed a pretty good class for 2009 and 2010, led by Abul Gaddy from Seattle. The question now is if Olson is definitely done, what's that going to do to the commitments they have now and in future years. I guess that has to do who is going to be the replacement.
SI.com: How will this affect Lute's legacy?
GW: I don't think it will too much. Here's a guy who has a national championship to his name, five Final Fours, 780 wins plus a few hundred more at the high school and junior college level. I don't think that should go out the window ... he's hardly the only coach in college sports who has struggled with how you deal with the end game and you could argue this decision took a lot of bravery.
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