Wednesday, March 26, 2008
O'Neill back at Arizona, plans to succeed Olson after retirement
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Kevin O'Neill said he expects to return to Lute Olson's Arizona staff and succeed the Hall of Famer when he retires.
"As I sit here today I am planning on being the next coach," O'Neill said Wednesday at a McKale Center news conference. "Lute is planning on fulfilling his contract and that is a long way off before any of that stuff happens. That is the least thing I am concerned about right now."
O'Neill became interim coach Nov. 4 after Olson took a leave of absence for undisclosed personal reason. When Olson recently announced that he would resume coaching next season -- he is signed through 2011 -- speculation arose that O'Neill might depart instead of returning to his job as an assistant.
O'Neill said he plans to fulfill the commitment he made when he came to Tucson a year ago.
"I had a two-year commitment to be an assistant here and I plan on honoring that commitment," O'Neill said. "To me, if you have a commitment and things work out then you should definitely honor them. I don't think it will be a problem at all."
O'Neill and Olson met Tuesday and had "a great talk, a very positive talk.
"I'm back to being an assistant coach and Lute is the head coach," O'Neill said. "He is making all the decisions with the program and should be. Any time you get a Hall of Fame coach back it has to be a major league plus for a program."
On March 10, Olson announced he would return, and he said the leave was necessitated "by a medical condition that was not life-threatening, but serious enough to require time away from my coaching responsibilities."
Olson, who has yet to hold a news conference, returned to his job on Monday and has been talking to players about next season.
Despite confusion over Olson's future and a rash of injuries, O'Neill guided Arizona to a 19-15 record and its 24th straight NCAA tournament appearance, the nation's longest active streak. The Wildcats were eliminated by West Virginia in the first round.
O'Neill, who took some heat from impatient Wildcats fans, said he did what he felt had to be done.
"I coached the way that I knew how to win," O'Neill said. "I don't think anybody can coach anyone else's style. When I looked at our team I thought the style we played gave us the best chance to win. That is why I did it and that is why I would do it all over again.
"I can honestly say I did the best job I could under the circumstances. I believe if we didn't have major, major injuries we would have won more games."