The Arizona program is in shambles. The top three players in the 2008 recruiting class (Brandon Jennings, Italy; Emmanuel Negedu, Tennessee; and Jeff Withey, announced his transfer last week) are gone. With the de-commitments of the three players who made up the 2009 recruiting class, only the ruins are left. There's no top 10 players coming in to save the day. Once Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill say their goodbyes after this season, this program that rivals anyone on the West side of the Mississippi will be down to hoping and praying that it can hire a man who's capable of restoring pride in Arizona basketball.
The rebuilding process will be harder that I could have imagined. The transition was anything but smooth.
Still, I'm stunned at the "Don't let the door hit you on the way out" approach many fans have adopted. One facebook group which I was asked to join is entitled "Good riddance, you demented old bastard." Several of my friends are members.
For a man who took a program from the gutter to 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances and national championship, it seems a harsh farewell. Sure Olson didn't handle the situation as well as he should have. But does one year of mistakes override 24 years of brilliance. Always a private man in a public man's profession, Olson shot himself in the foot in terms of public relations.
I had gotten to know Lute Olson in my three years of covering the team, and though he was often guarded, he always presented himself with dignity. Though he wasn't always forthcoming, he always cared about protecting his players.
His resume and his years of playing by the rules (no major infractions) should not go forgotten. We live in a what have you done for me lately society, but don't judge the man on his last chapter. Judge him by the entire book.
Now Arizona must move forward. The program will never be the same.
And now for potential replacements (note I don't have any inside information on this, these are just guys I'd like to see and who I think are plausible)
1. Mark Few
2. John Calipari
3. Jamie Dixon
- Few- He turned around a Gonzaga program in a mid major conference and made the Bulldogs a national power. Because Dan Monson began the ascension, Few doesn't get as much credit as Olson, but he's still done a tremendous job and would be a major coup.
- Calipari- According to a friend who used to work at the Best Damn Sports Show period, Calipari said he would leav Memphis for the Arizona job. Certainly, that's hope for Arizona fans. Calipari has a great thing going for him and is just coming off a national championship game appearance. He's a good recruiter, a master PR man, and a terrific coach. He also brings with him some baggage (see Worldwide Wes). Moving to a bigger conference could be the next challenge for Calipari but will Arizona pay him the type of salary he will demand?
- Dixon- Following Ben Howland at Pittsburgh, Dixon has quietly pit the Panthers near the top of the Big East year in and year out. He doesn't have the name power of the other two coaches on this list, but he can bring a defensive philosophy in badly need of one. Dixon is also from the West coast (San Fernando Valley) so a move would not be out of the question.
Arizona will play basketball this season, but it's nowhere nearly as important as what happens after the season. It will get worse before it gets better.
So get ready to go through some hard times Arizona fans. There's a good chance that the next time you'll be talking trash to ASU fans, you'll be saying, wait till football season.