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Bob Lind, Published October 12 2009

Lind: Legend of Hatton farm boy Lute Olson lives on

Lute Olson. The guy from Hatton, N.D., who became one of the all-time great college basketball coaches in the country. And the one who abruptly resigned as coach at the University of Arizona last year, stunning that school’s sports fans.

Neighbors carried a story about Lute last year, thanks to Patrice Toensing, formerly of Reeder, N.D., and now of Tucson, Ariz., who provided Arizona newspaper clippings about Lute.

Patrice recently sent more clippings about Lute to her brother Tom Askland of Fargo. Tom forwarded them to Neighbors.

The clippings, from the Arizona Daily Star, tell of the news conference Lute held earlier this year, prior to his being honored at halftime of an Arizona basketball game.

Lute said he was stepping down for health reasons. He said his doctor told him he could continue coaching if he wanted, “but you might drop on the sidelines.”

So he quit. But he said retirement was tough. “I’ve talked to other coaches (who said) retirement is a very difficult time. (But) my next thing is to make sure I do the things to be productive, even though I’m retired.”

That includes working with Easter Seals and other charities including the Arizona Cancer Center. His first wife, Bobbi, died of cancer.

Through the ranks

Lute was born on a Hatton farm. His name is Robert, but he’s always gone by Lute; his middle name is Luther.

He also lived in Mayville and Grand Forks, N.D., and played basketball for Grand Forks Central High School, leading the team to the state championship in 1952.

He played three sports at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, then went into high school coaching, first at Mahnomen, Minn. Then he went into college coaching, eventually going to Arizona in 1983.

Lute recently was named to the Pac-10 athletic hall of fame.

Greg Hansen, a sports columnist for the Daily Star, wrote that as a coach, Lute “rarely slipped and never let ’em see him sweat.

“I remember him at the 2005 Elite Eight in Chicago,” Hansen wrote, “when he sat at the podium and said, his voice booming, ‘I don’t take any medication and I’ve never had to wear reading glasses.’ He was 70 then, undaunted, and it seemed like he would coach forever.

“Olson’s voice no longer booms,” Hansen wrote. “He speaks frankly about the medications that help him fight depression and other health issues.

“Lord only knows how much good health he sacrificed by coaching for 50 years, a perfectionist, always in pursuit, never falling back.”

Lute had invitations to coach at other colleges, but he turned them down. He said he and Bobbi wanted to stay at Arizona “as long as people want us here.”

They wanted the guy from Hatton to stay a lot longer than he did.


If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com