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SALUTE TO LUTE ...

With college basketball season underway we can't help but feel that some big part of the game is missing. His name: Lute Olson.

The venerable and classy Arizona coach's retirement prior to the season, after an illustrious 24 years on the bench in Tucson, AZ, took us a bit by surprise, but we had suspected Coach Olson's coaching days were numbered dating back to his surprising leave of absence in November 2007.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Still, we would have liked to have seen him pace the Wildcats' sideline in the McKale Center, a.k.a., the House That Lute Built, one more time.

Strangely, when he spoke at the team's media day on Oct. 21, Olson said he was "energized" for the new season, and his players spoke enthusiastically about Olson's return and the upcoming season.

According to reports, Olson initially gave no reason for retiring. In late October, his doctor, Steven Knope, said an MRI had revealed that Olson had suffered a stroke in the last year. Knope said the stroke plunged Olson into severe depression and impaired his judgment, and Knope said he advised the coach to retire.

Last Nov. 4, Olson, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member, announced he was taking a personal leave of absence to deal with what he later termed "a medical condition that was not life-threatening." Kevin O'Neill was promoted from assistant coach to interim coach and later designated Olson's permanent successor. But the succession plan was scrapped even after O'Neill led Arizona to a 19-15 record and its 24th straight NCAA tournament berth, the nation's longest active streak.

However, O'Neill left the program soon after Olson returned.

We first learned of Coach Olson while watching the 1980 Final Four as a teenager. The native North Dakotan was then head coach at the University of Iowa and the Hawkeyes were led by a great All-American guard named Ronnie Lester.

Olson, whose first coaching job was at Mahnomen (MN) High School in 1956, arrived in Tucson in 1983 and quickly built a perennial national title contender and a hotbed for hotshot recruits. Prior to becoming a dynasty in the desert, Arizona had won just one conference title in the 29 years. That all changed quickly.

Within five seasons, Olson guided the Wildcats to the 1988 Final Four. The program would make three more trips to the Final Four under Olson's watch, including winning the 1997 national championship.

In his April 2002 Person to Person interview, Olson revealed that coaching was clearly in his blood at an early age.

"I decided I wanted to become a basketball coach in my sophomore year of high school. I knew by then that I wanted to go to college, get my teaching degree, and coach high school basketball."

Thanks for making that decision Lute. We will miss you.

WORLD SERIES SAVIOR? ...

We have never been a big fan of the Nutty Professor, otherwise known as Bud Selig, MLB Commissioner.

From his calling off the 1994 World Series to his 2002 All Star Game gaffe, his decision-making has made us scratch our heads on more than one occasion.

But, unknowingly, he may have come up with a solution to save the World Series: Play the games in three-inning increments.

Having grown up in an era when World Series games were still played on crisp autumn afternoons, long before sports television divorced America's pastime from a generation of young baseball fans, we actually applauded Selig's decision to suspend Game 5 between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays.

Many of us are still befuddled as to why the game was played at all in a steady, stinging, and cold rain.

As it turned out, resuming the game in the bottom of the sixth inning, with the score tied at 2-2, albeit nearly 48 hours later, provided great theater and drama. It also provided the chance for kids to finally watch the end of a World Series at a respectable hour, something that only happened with regularity after the stroke of midnight.

Not surprisingly, the abbreviated three-inning game also drew a robust 11.9 national rating in what was the lowest rated World Series in history (8.4 average).

It's pretty ironic to us that the Commissioner, who presided during baseball's dark Steroids Era, finally flexed his muscle to make the right call for the good of the game.
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Title Annotation:Lute Olson
Author:Newell, Kevin
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:732
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