Lute Olson said he will return as Arizona’s head coach at the end of this season, acknowledging a “medical condition” for taking his previously unexplained, season-long leave of absence.
Olson was not available for comment, speaking only through a news release UA issued today.
“I am very eager to be back doing what I love, which is coaching this team,” Olson said in the statement. “I appreciate everyone’s support during this period and want to thank (interim coach) Kevin O’Neill for the great job he’s done in my absence.”
Livengood, who is out of town today for a family matter, has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to discuss the coaching situation. O’Neill and UA players are expected to meet with media later today during their regularly scheduled weekly news conference.
Olson’s announcement comes just two days before the Wildcats begin play in the Pac-10 Tournament. Arizona will face Oregon State on Wednesday in Los Angeles and probably must win at least that game to earn a 24th straight NCAA tournament berth.
Olson, 73, announced on Nov. 4 he was taking an unexplained leave of absence. He returned to participate in several practices in mid-November but on Dec. 6, announced that he would miss the rest of this season.
He also filed for divorce that same day from his second wife of over three years, Christine.
Olson said in today’s news release that his leave from the team was necessitated “by a medical condition that was not life-threatening, but serious enough to require time away from my coaching responsibilities.”
He said in his Nov. 4 release, issued by a Phoenix-based public relations firm, that was not because of a “health scare” but there have been rampant rumors all season about his reasoning.
“I know there has been a lot of speculation about my situation,” Olson said. “I’m glad we can clear the air, but the most important thing right now is the team. All of our effort and attention should be on these student-athletes and their efforts to advance to the NCAA Tournament.”
Olson has occasionally been seen at his McKale Center office and has talked with players. In mid-January, he told the Star outside his office that he had seen every minute of the Wildcats’ games but was keeping a low profile.
“I’m certainly not going to be around because I think it would be disruptive,” Olson said. “I haven’t gone to games … I don’t want to be disruptive to the team. But the nice thing is that I’ve been able to see every game and I will continue to.”
Olson showed up for UA’s senior day ceremonies following its March 2 home finale against UCLA, but was flanked by security when he left and did not speak with the media.
UA president Robert Shelton was out of town Monday and could not be reached. Shelton said last week that he intended to talk with Olson about his plans, since Olson’s family leave time had expired, with Livengood being the “point person” on these talks.
Olson has not been actively involved in recruiting, even as O’Neill has been extending offers to spring signing period prospects. According to Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr, a former Wildcat star, Olson was preparing last week to take a fishing trip to Oregon and Kerr said the two did not talk about next season.
Olson is 589-187 over 24 seasons at UA.