UA hoops coach blunt on a variety of subjects
Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson, during an hour-long interview last week, was at times defensive and defiant, although he was without the biting tone he had at his combative comeback news conference April 1.
Still, much of what he had to say was blunt – and it reads that way in black and white.
My thoughts are that a softer tone would serve him better in the court of public opinion, but there is no need for me to put a filter on his words. Judge for yourself.
Here are Olson’s views on a variety of subjects.
On whether he was OK with the plan that athletic director Jim Livengood announced in December, naming interim coach Kevin O’Neill as Olson’s eventual successor:
“Jim Livengood was right here, so he could see if that was the route he wanted to go. But it wasn’t something I suggested. Jim called me to indicate what he was going to do. Livengood was here and I wasn’t.
“I was a little surprised. Kevin had pushed for that, too.”
On the decision to not renew the contract of assistant coach Miles Simon:
“That decision was not made by me. That was made by the administration. It was supposed to have been released as an administrative decision, and it would have made it a whole lot better for me, rather than my taking the heat.
“That was something that Kevin had pushed really hard, and I think it had gotten to the administration. That was very unfair to me, I thought, the way it was released. . . . I am still very upset about that.”
The press release, sent May 2 from the athletic department’s sports information office, did say that Livengood, not Olson, was announcing the decision.
Olson was quoted in the release, perhaps giving the impression he supported the move. So, why does Olson think Simon was let go?
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them,” Olson said of the administration.
Livengood has said he won’t comment on personnel matters.
“It’s nothing to do with anything illegal or anything else,” Olson said of Simon’s dismissal.
On letting signee Emmanuel Negedu out of his letter-of-intent after a complete changeover in UA’s assistant coaching staff:
“It was not hard. There were some things that came out about his coachability – or his lack of coachability. It was a very easy release,” Olson said.
Negedu, a 6-foot-7 power forward from Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, asked out after meeting with Olson last month.
Arizona granted his release a couple of days later, allowing Negedu, rated the nation’s 40th-best player by Rivals.com, to play for another school in the 2008-09 season.
“I wanted him to have to sweat a little bit to understand that you make a commitment, you should be a person of your word. But in the end, there was no way in the world I would have had him here,” Olson said.
“Just some things had come out from all-star situations and such. The word was, you better hope you don’t have to deal with them.”
On the academic status of star point guard recruit Brandon Jennings:
“He’s been admitted here. If there were anything, it would be from a test standpoint, but everything else is fine.”
On the original decision to bring in O’Neill as his lead assistant coach in the spring of 2007:
“I think it could have been good,” Olson said of the pairing.
“I think that was evident during the time we were working together. At the time, it was the right move. In the end, when I wasn’t able to coach, it was a bad move. No question.”
On what he would change about how he handled his absence while on the Family and Medical Leave Act:
“I was restricted a lot about what I could do, what I could say. I wish they would have allowed me to talk with the players about it more. On the other hand, I thought they were in good hands,” Olson said.
“Some of the parents said, ‘Well, why didn’t you call us?’ I felt like that would be like going behind Kevin’s back if I called them.
“But that kind of communication with the players and parents would have been important – if I had not been restricted by what I could do.”
Olson might have been advised otherwise, but employment lawyers have said that there is nothing in FMLA that prevents the employee from speaking publicly about his leave.
On when he became concerned about the team:
“When I saw the UCLA game at UCLA,” Olson said, referring to an 82-60 loss in Los Angeles on Feb. 2.
“It just looked to me like the spirit was gone. . . . When they’re kids that you have recruited and you know them as I know them, you can read them like a book. I just didn’t like the book I was reading. . . .
“There have been games – thank goodness, not many – that we lost like that in my 25 years here, but I don’t think there was ever a game where I felt the kids had thrown the towel in.
“It wasn’t just the style (of play). It just looked to me like the kids had really tossed in the towel. That was hard to watch.”
On whether he feels he should have a named successor:
“Oh, no. Once that is done, it should be based on long-term observations. So, no,” he said.
Olson then diverted onto a tangential train of thought.
“When we came into this horrible situation 25 years ago, it was like you didn’t know where to start,” he said about taking over a team that had gone 1-17 in the Pac-10 in 1983.
“Now, at least, we know where we are and I’m not going to apologize for 24 consecutive NCAA trips or averaging close to 25 wins a year. The people who are looking for an apology are looking at the wrong person for an apology.”
Does he really think people are looking for some sort of an apology?
“The negative ones always are,” Olson said.
On assistant coach Josh Pastner leaving for Memphis:
“Josh is like a son to me, and Josh and I talked for a long, long time about this because Josh hated to leave and I hated to have him leave. It was the right move for him. It was a great decision.
“There is no question that going to a place like Memphis is a much bigger plus for him on his résumé than staying at one school.”
On if he had been worried that junior point guard Nic Wise was going to transfer:
“No. Nic is probably going to be a captain of the team. . . . Nic will be a very key guy for us, and he knew that. His dad knew that,” Olson said.
“I went down (to Houston) and had dinner with his dad and his mom right after I got back. There was never any doubt in my mind that he would be back. There again, the rumor mill gets going.”
But it wasn’t much of a “rumor” when Wise told the Citizen on the record last month he was 50-50 about deciding to return. He announced later in May he was staying.
As for that rumor mill, in which Olson has been a popular and constant subject, he said: “This has got to be the most active rumor city in the world.”