To the surprise of no one, the recent retirement of Bob Olson after 35 years as UC Irvine director of athletic media relations, was handled without fanfare.
But few at UCI garnered as much respect and fondness from colleagues, friends and associates as the venerable veteran whose professionalism, understated humor and devotion to his job made him an institution at the school.
“He has been the quiet, steadying force for as long as anybody can remember,” said Stacey King, a colleague of Olson’s for 30 years. “Bob is just a solid human being. People liked Bob as a person, but everyone knew what a really good professional he was as well.”
Olson, 61, a native of Minnesota who lives in Costa Mesa, worked most closely the last 10 years with men’s basketball, men’s water polo, men’s and women’s cross country and men’s and women’s track and field. But he said at various times, he pretty much covered every sport.
“The way I’ve always looked at it is I was ultimately responsible for the coverage in every sport,” said Olson, who noted that he never missed a men’s basketball game since beginning work in July of 1982, a streak that stands at 1,062 games.
“It’s hard to quantify how much he has meant to the [athletic] department,” said Paul Hope, a senior associate athletic director at the school for parts of the last three decades. “His work ethic is unrivaled. You could talk to Bob about anything and as long as I’ve known him, he has never had a bad word to say about anybody. The guy is everything we want to become in our career. It’s sad that he is leaving and he creates a huge hole for us.”
UCI men’s basketball coach Russell Turner worked closely with Olson, whose tenure included working with former basketball coaches Bill Mulligan, Rod Baker and Pat Douglass.
“Bob carried himself with a pride and dignity that is really admirable,” Turner said, “and he did his job very well. Bob really enjoyed our players and liked being around them. And to have somebody on our bus that really experienced all that he did was really valuable to me.”
Two who valued Olson’s friendship, as well as his professional prowess, were former UCI colleagues Rob Halvaks and Vince O’Boyle.
“He’s a true, true friend,” said O’Boyle, who retired as UCI men’s and women’s cross country coach and director of men’s and women’s track and field after more than 30 years in 2013. “And not just because we started together [at UCI]. We got to know each other really, really well. He was my rock, when [UCI] dropped men’s track and field way back. He helped me through some questionable times, before they brought the program back. He was solid for me and I hope I can be the same for him.”
Halvaks, who worked in UCI media relations before Olson arrived and was an associate athletic director at the school during Olson’s tenure, traveled with the men’s basketball team for a time when Halvaks was also doing radio broadcasts.
“He is one of the great travel partners I’ve ever had,” Halvaks said of Olson, who was the dean of media relations directors in the Big West Conference. “He was always a steadying influence on the [sports information] group, and one of the most understated guys you are going to run into in our business.
“Whether [UCI] was winning or losing, up or down, he was the same steady-down-the-line Bob, which is what most people admire about him,” Halvaks said. “He didn’t wear the job on his sleeve. He was a professional and did what was needed, and when he was called upon to go the extra mile, he was there to do it for you.”
Among Olson’s highlights were six men’s basketball wins over UNLV, then a national power, in the 1980s, more than any other program produced in that decade. There was an NIT win at UCLA in 1986, and a 1989 men’s water polo game at Cal, between the top two ranked teams in the country that UCI won in seven overtimes, one month before topping the Golden Bears in the NCAA title game.
He also said being on hand for UCI’s trip to the College World Series in 2007, Charles Jock’s NCAA title in the 800 meters in 2012, and the men’s basketball team’s breakthrough trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 stand out among his flood of memories.
“I’ve been blessed to work with so many talented, gifted and loyal people, including coaches, student-athletes, staff and administrators,” Olson said. “UCI has always been a fantastic university for academics and research, and to watch athletics grow and reach some of the same levels and bring a lot of positive exposure to the university has been something I will cherish.”