Hall of Fame college basketball coach Lute Olson, an Augsburg graduate known for coaching at Iowa and building Arizona into a national powerhouse, died Thursday night while in hospice care in Tucson, Ariz. He was 85.
A North Dakota native, Olson graduated from Augsburg in 1956 and got his coaching start in Minnesota high school basketball at Mahnomen and Two Harbors from 1956-61.
Olson’s legend will be forever linked with the Wildcats, especially for his 1997 NCAA championship. Still, he never forgot where he came from.
“He was a very big fan of Augsburg,” Olson’s friend and former college teammate Wes Bodin told the Star Tribune on Thursday. “He would come back as often as he could.”
Bodin recalled when they were both three-sport athletes with the Auggies. The 6-foot-4 Olson played tight end and defensive end in football, forward in basketball and first base in baseball.
As a sophomore in college, Olson married his high school sweetheart and worked nights to support his wife, Bobbi, and the first of their five children. Bobbi died in 2001 from ovarian cancer. They had been married 47 years.
His passion for coaching was groomed while playing for Ernie Anderson and Edor Nelson, his basketball and football coaches at Augsburg.
“He had the temperament, honesty, organizational skills,” Nelson told the Star Tribune in 2001. “We talked about him becoming a coach all the time. That’s all he wanted to do.”
Olson’s first Division I head coaching opportunity came at Long Beach State in 1973-74. He was known for not staying long at any position until his run with Iowa from 1974-83. He won the 1979 Big Ten regular-season title and reached five straight NCAA tournaments with the Hawkeyes.
Following his stint in Iowa City, Olson embarked on a storied 25-year career at Arizona. The highlights were four Final Fours, 11 Pac-10 titles and 23 straight NCAA tournaments.
In 2001, Olson returned to Minneapolis as Arizona lost the NCAA title game to Duke at the Metrodome. He retired from the Wildcats and coaching in 2008 with a record of 781-280.
Olson was inducted to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He had been seen at Wildcats basketball games until suffering a minor stroke in February 2019.