In O'Neill They Trust

By Josh Herwitt - December 18, 2007

Kevin O'Neill doesn't have to worry about what his next coaching job will be.

And he doesn't have to worry about leaving Tucson, Ariz., either since coming over from the Toronto Raptors seven months ago to join Hall of Famer Lute Olson as his top assistant at Arizona.

Not after Tuesday's announcement from athletic director Jim Livengood, who declared that O'Neill will serve as Olson's successor when the 73-year-old coach finally retires from the bench.

"It's an unbelievable honor to follow Lute Olson," O'Neill said. "I'm thrilled to get the opportunity and will work to continue the superb tradition of Arizona basketball when Lute is done."

O'Neill, though, is already getting his chance to show Livengood what he can do this year after Olson first announced his personal leave of absence on Nov. 4 and then extended it two weeks ago for the entire 2007-08 season.

Yet while Olson says he will be back next season to serve as Arizona's head coach once again, it's O'Neill who has taken over a young Wildcats team and guided them to a 7-2 start, including a solid win over Illinois two weeks ago in Chicago, and a No. 19 ranking in this week's AP Top 25 poll.

"Kevin is our coach for now, and will be our coach in the future when Lute decides to retire," Livengood said. "It goes without saying, but let me say it again: the University of Arizona's appreciation of what Lute Olson has meant to our program is boundless."

Olson, after all, has compiled a 589-187 (.759) record in his 24 seasons at Arizona and propelled the Wildcats to 23 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, which stands as the nation's longest active streak, and the school's only national championship in 1997.

Those numbers aren't something that O'Neill will be able to replicate anytime soon. In fact, at 50 years old, O'Neill most likely won't ever be able to attain the kind of coaching stardom that his good friend and mentor has.

But with any luck and enough time at Arizona after 11 years between Marquette, Tennessee and Northwestern, O'Neill just might be the right guy to carry on Olson's legacy when he finally does decide to hand over the reigns.

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2007

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