Lute Olson's Return Puts Arizona Wildcats in Jeopardy

Bryan MilwardCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2008

I never thought I'd see the day when Lute Olson was anything but revered by the people of Tucson and the students of the University of Arizona.

After this season's long leave of absence, however, we have real questions about his return to coaching.  

Lute Olson has always been the Brett Favre of the program, and we always figured we'd let him coach as long as he wanted to while secretly dreading the day he should finally hang it up. 

You can't argue with nearly 600 wins, a national title, and 11 Pac-10 titles. 

However, Kevin O'Neill had success, despite all the turmoil at the beginning of the season. The team started to buy in to the system and were serious contenders until injuries and lack of depth exposed the team after the game at UCLA.  

As much as I love and respect Lute Olson (my dad used to take me to Lute's barber when I was a kid), it's time for him to hang it up. 

He has nothing left to prove except for joining the 800-win club, and that would only prove what everyone already knows; that he is one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.  

With Olson back in the saddle, it puts Kevin O'Neill in an awkward position. 

On one hand, he has been designated the successor of this great program.

On the other hand, he'll be coaching a core of players who have excelled at times in his coaching system, which emphasizes running plays in the half-court and tough man-to-man defense.

Olson will undoubtedly bring back his offensive philosophy, which will likely cause some resentment from O'Neill, who has been through the fire this season while Lute took care of his personal life.

He has every right to look for another job so he can have more of an impact on the team instead of waiting for the legend to finally hang it up.

The part about Lute's return that worries me most is on the recruiting front. 

For the last few years, a number of players have been swayed away from U of A due to rumors about Olson's health and impending retirement.  He stated today that he plans on coaching out his contract which runs through 2011. 

That effectively gives him lame duck status, and any recruit looking at Arizona beyond 2009 can tell that the program will be in flux during most of their time in Tucson.

Ideally, I'd like to see O'Neill shed the interim tag and have Olson step aside and play sort of an elder statesman role, in the same way as UCLA's John Wooden.

This decision rests entirely with Lute, of course, since the last thing the university wants to do is push out the man who built this program up from square one.  

There's nothing worse than seeing a legend tarnish his legacy by hanging on too long and hurting everything he built up over the years. 

Lute, for the sake of the program and your legacy: It's time to move on.