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Olsons’ woes will play out in the spotlight




“Where did we go right?”

- “The Producers,” by Mel Brooks

Life is too confusing. So often, what seems real and certain and sure to last forever isn’t and doesn’t. What shouldn’t be, is.

It’s a crazy, crazy world.

Take love. It usually finds a way to conquer all, but many times winds up like a motorcycle daredevil trying to jump over one too many Greyhound buses.

Lute Olson’s marriage to second wife Christine Toretti Olson appears over.

He has filed for divorce in Pima County Superior Court. They were married four years ago, about two years after the death of Lute’s first wife, Bobbi, from ovarian cancer, on Jan. 1, 2001.

Lute has been on leave from the University of Arizona basketball team since Nov. 4.

It would be nice to leave this story alone at this point and let the lawyers work things out. Quietly.

But Lute, 73, is the most famous man in Tucson, if not Arizona, and the divorce is the Big Secret everyone has been asking about – all over the country.

It helps explains Lute’s mysterious absence from the team he recruited and put together and then suddenly, just over a month ago, turned over to top assistant Kevin O’Neill.

Here we have an authentic sports legend, with a soul stoked by competitive coals, wed to a captain of industry. . .

That’s not a match, it’s a match-up.

As beautiful as this couple were together, it would appear the marriage was as difficult and stinging as what every family faces, or will eventually face. That’s life, dammit.

In “The Producers,” two zany characters try to come up with the worst possible idea for a Broadway musical in order to fleece investors.

In the marriage of Arizona’s Hall of Fame basketball coach and the high-profile businesswoman/Republican national committee woman, it looked for the world to most of us that an impossible match had become a dream marriage.

Apparently not.

Lute has said he won’t be back for the rest of the season. Fortunately, the Arizona basketball team has O’Neill, one of the few coaches in the country as good as Olson.

Maybe Lute had this in mind when he brought O’Neill aboard earlier this year, as defensive coordinator, and lobbied successfully for a salary for Kevin far above that of most assistants.

It was appropriate, though, because O’Neill has skills far above most assistants. The guy who helped Lute build and coach the best team in UA history – the 1987-88 bunch that went 35-3 and was the first from Arizona to reach the Final Four – is the right man at the right time.

Whether O’Neill leads the Wildcats through the remainder of this season and then returns to his position as assistant, or becomes the head coach should Lute decide he’s too old to attempt a comeback, this much is certain:

O’Neill is equal to the task, whatever it is.

He has plenty of head coaching experience, at Marquette, Tennessee, Northwestern and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.

He knows the game inside-out. He connects with the players. And he has a passion for basketball at least equal to Lute’s.

But the task at hand is for Lute and Christine to deal with one of life’s toughest situations, while O’Neill deals with one of college basketball’s toughest schedules.

The hope is that the Olsons’ private agony won’t become a media feast. The reality is, that is probably impossible.

Lute and Christine are simply too famous – and the price of fame is notoriety, often unwanted. We would like to leave this thing alone, but it is a genie out of the jug.

It’s sad. We feel terrible for this extraordinary couple.

A marriage fallen apart is a tragedy, and our heart goes out to two excellent people who may have attempted the impractical – in an impossible time.

Corky Simpson writes a column every Saturday for the Citizen.

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