At the heart of his being, Dennis Olson was always a coach.

Even after retiring in 1992 from the Auburn High School girls basketball program, which he began in 1974, Olson couldn’t stay away. He kept finding himself back on the sidelines before finally walking away from coaching for good in 2010 after a three-year stint at Green River Community College.

“I’ve retired about three different times, and I just always get the itch to go back,” Olson told The Seattle Times in 2007. “I really miss it when I’m not coaching. … I guess I don’t have enough to do when I’m not coaching.”

The consummate coach passed away Sunday of natural causes, said grandson Dennis McDonald. He was 82.

“Dennis is everything to the girls basketball program here,” current Auburn girls basketball coach Jon Price said. “He founded it, built it and headed it in the right direction. The rest of us are just caretakers. It was quite a weekend, going from the high of the boys winning the championship on Saturday to reading on Sunday night in an email of Denny’s death.”

It took five years of “inactivity” before Olson came back to coaching the first time. When he did, he led Bothell to a semifinal appearance at the Class 4A state girls basketball tournament before adding a sixth-place trophy and a 24-4 record in his only season with the Cougars.


He left Bothell to take over the women’s basketball program at Highline Community College, a post he held for five seasons and where he added 113 wins to just 41 losses to his already large total. He jumped to Highline High but won just four games in his single season there before re-retiring in 2004.

At five stops, Olson earned 571 wins in 29 seasons as a high-school and college coach. The Seattle Times named him the girls basketball coach of the century in 1999, and he was inducted into the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018.

McDonald said his grandfather had been suffering from complications due to partial dementia.

“He was in hospice for the last month or so,” McDonald said. “The last year or so he faded really fast. Then the last week or so, the family was there every day. He wasn’t very communicative, but his doctors said he seemed peaceful.”

Of course, it is at Auburn where Olson’s legacy remains.

Olson’s teams went 402-66 during his tenure with the Trojans. During those years, Auburn played in seven championship games and won two titles, in 1983 and 1991. From 1976 until he retired, Olson’s team made the state tournament 12 times and won 11 trophies — all sixth place or better.


From Lisa Raschkow Johnson in 1983 to Dana Thompson in 1989 to Behka Stafford in 1992, along with many others, Olson mentored a slew of conference MVPs and other players who went on to great success in high-profile collegiate programs. Eight of his players, from Dana Fish in 1980 to Stafford in 1992, were named to Star Times teams.

“He was a great coach, a great mentor,” Johnson said. “I don’t think I would have been as successful if I’d been anywhere else. I just always had so much respect for him. And he expected so much from us. I think that’s why the Auburn program was so good for so long, with so many different players who came through there.

“But he had a good sense of humor, too. So, it wasn’t all serious. He tried to make us better people.”

The family is planning a graveside service at 3 p.m. March 25 at Mountainview Cemetery in Auburn. A memorial potluck gathering follows from 4-6 p.m. at the Les Gove Multipurpose Building near the Auburn Event and Community Center.