*** The Pac-12 Hotline newsletter is published each Monday-Wednesday-Friday during the college sports season and twice-a-week in the summer. (Sign up here for a free subscription.) This edition, from Aug. 28, has been made available in archived form.
Plan C, with Context
The Hotline had planned to devote this space to a football matter — specifically, a piece of winter/spring football puzzle that has been overlooked.
But we shifted to Plan B this morning following the news of the passing of former Arizona coach Lute Olson, whose impact on west coast college basketball is difficult to quantify.
Our search for context led the Hotline to one of Olson’s top rivals and close friends, former Stanford and Cal coach Mike Montgomery.
But the 20-minute conversation with Montgomery yielded so many gems that it demanded separate space; so we turned it into a column published earlier this afternoon on the Hotline.
(Montgomery addressed their rivalry, the atmosphere in McKale Center, how he’d tease Olson about preferential treatment from the officials, and plenty more.)
Now, we on Plan C, which is to provide a morsel of context on Olson’s career.
If you’re carving a Mt. Rushmore of Pac-12 basketball coaches, he’s probably third in line behind John Wooden and Pete Newell.
Without a doubt, he stands as the greatest coach of the post-Wooden era:
1. Olson2. Mike Montgomery3. Ralph Miller4. Ben Howland5. Dana Altman
You can quibble with the final three, and others are deserving of inclusion. But the top two seem indisputable to us, especially when you consider where they did what they did.
Add another layer of context, though, and the case could be made for Olson as one of half-dozen most influential coaches in conference history in any sport.
Wooden and John McKay, the former USC football coach who won four national titles, are the kings.
The next level, at least in terms of football and men’s basketball success, would be Newell, Olson, John Robinson, Pete Carroll, Don James and, from the way-back machine, Pop Warner.
(Bill Walsh didn’t stick around at Stanford long enough.)
That second tier certainly has room for others.
My goal here and now isn’t to craft a comprehensive list of the conference’s best-of-the-best coaches. It’s to point out that Olson is near the top of it. — Jon Wilner
Hot off the Hotline
• Major news out of the conference office on Wednesday, and it wasn’t good: 79 employees have been furloughed for at least three months while 15 more have been laid off as a result of the football shutdown. The Hotline has the numbers and Larry Scott’s note to the staff in what seems like an ominous development for the universities. Budget decisions at HQ are designed to mirror moves made on the campuses. Does this mean we’ll see more downsizing from the schools in the weeks to come?
• The Pac-12 surprised many, including its head coaches, with the decision to delay the start of the basketball season until Jan. 1, at the earliest. But according to sources, the conference is open to reconsidering that date if the right Covid-19 conditions are met. We have all the details in a Hotline exclusive published on Thursday morning.
• Montgomery on Olson: “I’d say, ‘Lute, you’ve got those officials living in your locker room.’ And he’d chuckle and say, ‘Oh, Mike.’’’
• ICYMI: The Tuesday newsletter focused on the timing of the decision to shut down football: Had the schedule been different, the presidents wouldn’t have been forced to vote when they did. And that could have changed the dynamics. Previous editions of the newsletter are available in archived form.
Support the Hotline: Several Hotline articles will remain free each month (as will the newsletter), but for access to all content, you’ll need to subscribe. I’ve secured a rate of $1 per week for a full year or just 99 cents for the first month, with the option to cancel anytime. Click here. And thanks for your loyalty.
• Well, well, well: UCLA has counterpunched. The Bruins filed a lawsuit against Under Armour in U.S. District Court as the school pursues the $200 million remaining (approx) on the contract that UA is attempting to terminate. (It was originally valued at $280 million and includes about $10 million annually in cash that the debt-strapped Bruins desperately need) … And for those who missed a Hotline report from last week, Cal is fighting back against Under Armour, as well, although that situation has not escalated to a lawsuit, yet.
In the News
(Note: The Hotline newsletter includes links to sites that could require a subscription once the number of free views has been reached.)
• Here’s the lengthy obituary (justifiably so) on Arizona coach Lute Olson, from beat writer Bruce Pascoe at tucson.com … And longtime columnist Greg Hansen examines the momentous impact Olson had on the city of Tucson itself … The reaction from his former players is what you might expect. (Separately, here’s Steve Kerr.)
• Stadium columnist Jeff Goodman, an Arizona graduate, remembers Olson as “a man who took an interest in a 20-something-kid who was breaking into the business as a recruiting writer.”
• Bill Frieder’s tenure at Arizona State overlapped with Olson’s reign. They became unlikely but close friends — an odd couple, for sure — and shot a series of entertaining commercials. Frieder spoke to azcentral’s Kent Somers about his longtime friend and one-time rival.
• Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has been a voice of reason throughout the pandemic. He’s not overly optimistic about winter/spring football, which should make fans a tad pessimistic.
• Meanwhile, Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith explains that teams could start practice before 2021, in theory, but would not be able to compete until at least Jan. 1.
• Texas Tech reportedly practiced the day it announced 21 positive tests within the football program. USC paused workouts Wednesday for football and water polo after eight positives. Two different worlds, folks. Two different worlds.
• UCLA is advancing in the return-to-play process. In two weeks, per the L.A. Times, the Bruins will conduct limited, coach-led workouts. “A progression into these enhanced activities is based on the advice of the UCLA medical team and is in compliance with state and county guidelines.”
• One positive test for Cal out of 358 conducted in the past three weeks.
• Oregon and Oregon State were well represented on John Canzano’s list of the 25 most-influential sports figures in Oregon. We think his choice for No. 2 is particularly insightful.
• If the Pac-12 plays in the winter/spring, could mid-year enrollees be eligible? SI’s Ross Dellenger addresses a critical piece of the calculation (because rosters will be depleted from NFL attrition).
• Not related to the Pac-12 but possibly relevant to the Pac-12 in time: Coaches in the desperate-to-play Big Ten are looking at an eight-game season that would start the week of Thanksgiving.
• The economic impact of a fall without football is being felt in the conference office, in athletic departments and in the communities. The Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel examines the ramifications around the UW campus and reports, for example, that the Big Time Brewery could lose $100,000 or more. “We just have to survive and keep going forward.”
• The Oregonian’s Nick Daschel addresses the situation for businesses in Corvallis, where the economic damage is different in scale but not necessarily severity. “The city’s 981 hotel rooms have an occupancy rate of 73 to 95 percent and average $150-275 per room during an Oregon State football weekend. As a comparison, the occupancy rates during a non-football weekend in October range between 40 to 60 percent, at a much lower average price point.”
• CBS Sports took a deep dive into the Pac-12 basketball scene and found, as did the Hotline, growing sentiment for the conference to revise its calendar. Reporter Matt Norlander also provides background on the decision by the presidents to wrap basketball into the vote on the fall sports — a decision that caught many off guard, including, per Norlander, commissioner Larry Scott. Put 12 presidents together on a call about health and safety, and you never know where it might lead.
What’s coming on the Pac-12 Hotline:
• There are numerous obstacles to football in the winter or spring. Some are real. Others are not. We’ll address one of the latter next week.
• The NFL on Saturdays? Maybe. An altered Pac-12 media strategy? Perhaps. A local candidate for a powerful industry position? Quite possibly.
• Reminder: The news is fast and furious these days, so our publication plans for content cited in this section are highly fluid. Thanks for your understanding.
*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline
*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.
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Author: Jon Wilner