Rather than emphasize a specific style of play, Olson adjusted to the talents of his players, though he usually favored a free-flowing, up-tempo offense.
In the 1997 N.C.A.A. championship game, the Wildcats had quick guards in Bibby, Terry and Simon, all consensus All-Americans later in their collegiate careers.
“The way they want us to play is the way we want to play,” Olson told The New York Times, referring to Kentucky’s defensive pressure on the eve of the championship game. “We want it wide open. We want the court spread. Our game is to go at people. The toughest games that we have to deal with are the ones where people are going to slow the thing down.”
Robert Luther Olson was born on a farm outside Mayville, N.D., in the far eastern part of the state, on Sept. 22, 1934. His father, Albert, died of a stroke when Lute was 5 years old, and his mother, Alinda, moved the family to several towns before settling in Grand Forks, N.D. Olson led his high school team to the 1952 state championship, then played basketball, football and baseball at Augsburg College in Minnesota.
After coaching high school basketball, he was the head coach at Long Beach City College in California. He then coached at Long Beach State for one season, posting a 24-2 record, and at the University of Iowa for nine seasons, his teams there going 168-90.
Olson took the Hawkeyes to the N.C.A.A. tournament in his last five seasons, including a trip to the Final Four in 1980, when Iowa lost to the eventual champion, Louisville.
Olson had a reputation as a dogged recruiter, bringing him the nickname Midnight Lute for his ability to sign a player just when an opposing coach thought he had succeeded.