Saturday , Oct , 25 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

Lute Olson Decided to Stop Digging and Made the Right Move

Lute Olson Decided to Stop Digging and Made the Right Move

The Silver Fox set the program back at least 5 years.  It will take at least 5 years to get back to a 19-15 season with an early Tournament exit.  Perhaps the only way his timing could have been worse would have been to leave sometime next week.


The tide has turned in Arizona.  The ASU basketball team is now the state’s top program, while the University of Arizona’s football team is looking for a top-2 finish in the PAC-10.  Ken Wisenhunt is turning the Arizona Cardinals from a team of whiners into a team of winners, and owner Bill Bidwell seems to be willing to spend money on them.  For the first time in the history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, there is a head coach preaching defense.


Oh, and did I mention U of A basketball?


It is confusing and confounding.  The school’s athletic director first got word from Dick Vitale while watching ESPN.  For persons complaining about the manner in which he went out, here is a link, here is a link, and here is a link.


There is quite a bit of complaining going on – and rightfully so – but very few are paying much more than lip service to his legacy.  His NBA players include Finals Champions Sean Elliot and Steve Kerr (from the first Final Four team), current stars Gilbert Arenas, Jason Terry, Andre Igoudala and Richard Jefferson, and waning NBA players like Mike Bibby.  For a complete list of his guys in the NBA, visit this link. 


He has won in the NCAA and his players have had success in the pros.  Except for his own recent public problems, his players and his program have been relatively clean.

For whatever it’s worth, this guy puts Lute’s program as Number 8 all-time.  ESPN says it has been the fifth-best program since 1984. 


He added to the college game, the pro game and the international game.


He has inspired pride in the community and his team by regularly playing tough non-conference foes and manning up to every challenge.  Perhaps that it is why it is so disconcerting to see him go out this way.  No one wants to admit that humans, by their nature, decline.  The water-cooler is that his about-face this week must have been due to some medical condition or bout mental dementia.  Why else would he say one thing on Media Day and then disappear?


Rather than admit he had a rapid decline, we struggle for answers.  Why did he do it?  How did this happen?  Wasn’t he thinking clearly?  In order to cope with the juxtaposition of his legend and his end, we try to laugh it off because that’s the only coping mechanism there is.


Also, it would be easier to simply be angry and make a clean.  Then, we would not have to struggle with the reality.


There is no ulterior motive or dark secret.  We are seeking to create one because we cannot face the truth.  The man was lying to himself and it took him a year to come clean.  He, like us, did not want to see the true reality.  For everything he did, he was still fragile, breakable.  This last year was nothing more than the result of Lute’s weaknesses – his humanness.  His timing was horrendous and the manner in which he handled it was even worse. 


I do not give him a “pass” on it, because he behaved badly.  I do, however, think it should be overlooked and forgiven.  Many players, coaches and administrators have done much worse things to their programs and their schools and never even came close to giving that which Lute gave.


In the end, he made the right decision given the circumstances.  The first rule of digging holes is that you need to put the shovel down.  Reality finally hit him.  Making the best of your current situation is the test of your character.  Do not complain and bemoan how you got there – decide what you can do to make it better.  I believe that when Lute finally got clarity on the future of his coaching career and the needs of the program he built, he asked himself, “What is the best thing I can do for the program right now?”


The timing could have been worse.  He could have gone out a la Bobby Knight.  You can take issue with Lute’s missteps over the past year, but you should commend him for ending it before it got worse.