So, Lute Olson has made it official that he is retiring from the University of Arizona. And he once again has left more questions than answers in his wake as this bizarre odyssey of the past year-plus finally comes to a close. (At least, we think it's come to a close.)
If you look at the local coverage, the mood is more festive than funeral, as the locals are celebrating -- and rightly so -- the amazing things Olson was able to accomplish in a place that was in as bad a shape before he took over as the WSU program was when Dick Bennett came to Pullman.
This is a man who, as Sports Northwest Magazine pointed out, has done more for the Pac-10 than any coach since John Wooden. He was a polarizing figure, but love him or hate him, opposing fans had to respect his greatness. I, for one, would have liked the opportunity to give him a round of applause for once, since I spent every second I could chanting "SIT - DOWN - LUTE! SIT - DOWN - LUTE!" Unfortunately, fans such as myself won't get that opportunity.
Even more disappointing than that, though, is what a mess Olson made of this whole thing.
Olson has always been a maverick, defiantly caring very little what others thought of him over the years. Remember the whole Midnight Lute thing with Jerry Tarkanian? Or his recruitment of Jason Terry, whom Bob Bender had in his grasp with a verbal, only to have him stolen by Olson? He always marched to his own drummer, a large reason he took that program to unprecedented heights.
But in this case, his independent ways have done more harm than good.
Through his actions, Olson has more or less decimated two recruiting classes at Arizona. Olson hung his hat on one recruit last year, point guard Brandon Jennings, but Jennings bolted for Europe when he didn't qualify academically. The rest of the class was subpar by Arizona standards.
Then, when assistants Miles Simon and Josh Pastner left the program, at least one of Arizona's three top-100 recruits -- Abdul Gaddy -- decommitted. Olson guaranteed all three that he would be there for their freshman years, and Gaddy recommitted. Now, with Olson again stepping down, at least two of them -- Gaddy and Mike Moser -- have decommitted again. The third, Solomon Hill, sounds like he's taking a wait-and-see approach.
Here's to betting they've lost at least Gaddy for good (probably to UCLA or Washington), and with only one month left until the early signing period begins, it's hard to believe that Arizona can get another permanent coach in place fast enough to try and get the other two back on board.
It certainly isn't going to help matters that Arizona's first choice to be interim coach, Mike Dunlap, turned them down because they wouldn't give him a long-term contract and they've now promoted a guy who is in his first year as an assistant at Arizona and has never been a head coach. And oh, by the way, the new guy was dismissed from his previous coaching job at ASU by Rob Evans because of job performance issues.
What a mess.
It's hard enough to be the man who replaces the legend. But with two bad recruiting classes, the near-certain defection Chase Budinger at the end of the year to the NBA Draft and the strong possibility that Jordan Hill and possibly Nic Wise will do the same ... let's just say the guy who is selected to permanently replace Olson will almost certainly be set up to fail.
At the very least, it's going to make it tough for AD Jim Livengood to sell Arizona as a premier program to the big fish coach he will so desperately try to land. No matter what people in Tucson think, Arizona is not Indiana.
I don't know Olson personally, so I don't know what's going through his mind right now. Maybe he doesn't need a farewell tour. Maybe he doesn't care what other people think of him. Maybe he doesn't think he owes the university anything after all the wins and Final Fours he gave them.
But after the way the university stood by him through the death of his first wife and the circumstances of the past year, wanting to spend more time hanging out with your family is just not a good enough reason to leave a program in a lurch. Not like this.
Unless it comes out that that there is a medical issue driving him from the sidelines, Arizona deserved better than this exit from Lute Olson.