Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: Iowa State & Michigan's Johnny Orr

November 18th, 2011

In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel caught up with Johnny Orr, who won a combined 427 games at Michigan and Iowa State while also leading the schools to a combined ten NCAA Tournament appearances. Orr led Michigan to the 1976 NCAA title game, where they fell to fellow Big Ten member Indiana, who capped the final undefeated season in NCAA history with the win.

Jon Teitel: As a senior at Taylorville HS you led your team to a state title and a 45-0 record (the first undefeated season in Illinois high school history). How good a player were you back then, and how were you able to stay focused for the entire season? 

Johnny Orr: We had a great coach in Dolph Stanley and great players.  I was pretty good. I was captain of the all-state team. 

JT: After graduation you went to Illinois, where you played three different sports. Which sport were you best at, and which one did you enjoy the most? 

JO: I played basketball later on in the service, but in college I was best at football: I made the Second Team All-Big Ten as an end. 

JT: In 1948 you were drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers (who proceeded to win five titles over the next six years), then were drafted the next year by the St. Louis Bombers. Why did you not sign with Minneapolis, and do you have any regrets about not doing so? 

JO: I have no regrets: I had one more year left of college and I wanted to finish up. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1974 NCAA Tournament as head coach at Michigan (two-point loss to eventual national runner-up Marquette)? 

JO: Al McGuire had a great team. We just did not play quite well enough. 

1976 NCAA Tournament

JT: Rickey Green scored 10 points and made a 20-foot jumper with six seconds left in a one-point win over Wichita State. How were you able to pull out the win? 

JO: We were lucky to win that game. Rickey made a heck of a shot. 

JT: Green scored 20 in a four-point win over Notre Dame (led by Adrian Dantley with 31 points). Where does Dantley rank among the best players you have ever seen? 

JO: He was a great player and scored a lot of points against us. 

JT: Tournament MOP Scott May scored 26 points for Indiana to win the first title for Bobby Knight (it was also the first title game featuring two conference foes and the last featuring an undefeated champion). What was it like to coach against Knight, and could anyone have beaten that Hoosiers team? 

JO: It was the first time that two Big Ten teams were in the title game.  I do not think anyone could have beaten them that season. 

JT: In 1976 you were named National Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding honor? 

JO: It was a great honor. 

JT: You joined Iowa State in 1980 after their AD called you to inquire about your assistant Bill Frieder and you ended up negotiating the job for yourself. How on earth could the Cyclones afford to be competitive financially with the Wolverines, and what made Frieder such a great coach? 

JO: Bill was with me a long time and was a great coach.  AD Lou McCullough called me for a recommendation of Bill, and he flew me out to show me their facilities.  On the way back to the airport to fly home he offered me the job because a couple of his board members liked me, but I was planning to coach a couple more years and then take a PR job with General Motors.  I asked my wife about it when I got home and told her that I really liked it, so she told me to make sure that I made enough money so that she would not have to work any more!  Iowa State president Robert Parks said he had never had a good team there before and told Lou to give me whatever I wanted.  They gave me $52,000 (Michigan only paid me $33,000). I thought I had won the lottery! 

1986 NCAA Tournament

JT: Jeff Hornacek scored 15 points and made a 26-foot shot at the buzzer in a two-point overtime win over Miami (OH). Where does that shot rank among the most clutch you have ever seen, and what was the reaction like in your locker room afterward? 

JO: It was wild in the locker room.  It was one of the greatest shots I have ever seen.  I recruited Hornacek and people said he was not fast enough, but he had a quick and great shot. 

JT: You had a three-point win over Michigan and your former assistant coach, which you claimed was the greatest victory of your career. Were you out for revenge, and why was it such a big win for you? 

JO: I was not out for revenge.  At the press conference the night before I was asked how we ever got in this tourney, and I told them that it was because we were a good team.  Needless to say, the writer did not show up at the press conference after the win!   

1992 NCAA Tournament

JT: Current Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg made a dunk with 14 seconds left to clinch a two-point win over Charlotte. Were you nervous about having Hoiberg on the floor at the end of the game as a freshman, and could you imagine that he would have your job two decades later? 

JO: I never thought Fred would go into coaching, but I knew he could be a good coach.  He had great shooting ability and was one of the smartest players I ever had. 

JT: You had an eight-point loss to Kentucky despite having two players each score 30+ points (Ron Bayless and Justus Thigpen). What was it like to coach against Rick Pitino in March, and how on earth did you lose after having two guys combine to make 24-25 FT? 

JO: Kentucky had a bunch of great players on their team.  It was just one of those tourney games. You win some, you lose some. 

JT: You remain the winningest coach in both Michigan (209 wins) and Iowa State (218 wins) history. How were you able to have so much success at two different schools, and do you think anyone will break either of your records? 

JO: I am unsure if anyone will break it because they do not keep people around that long anymore.  My success is due to a combination of factors: great players, great administrators, great fans.  I had a thrill at both schools, but never would have left Michigan if they had paid me a little more. 
Coach Orr is on Jon's list of best coaches in both Big 12 and Big Ten history.

BIG 12
Baylor: Bill Henderson (1941-1943, 1945-1961) 201-233, 3 NCAA tourneys, 4 conference titles
Iowa State: Johnny Orr (1980-1994) 218-200, 6 NCAA tourneys
Kansas: Phog Allen (1907-1909, 1919-1956) 590-219, 3 NCAA titles
Kansas State: Tex Winter (1953-1968) 261-118, 6 NCAA tourneys, 8 conference titles, 1-time national COY
Missouri: Norm Stewart (1967-1999) 631-333, 16 NCAA tourneys, 8 conference titles, 2-time national COY
Oklahoma: Kelvin Sampson (1994-2006) 280-108, 11 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 2-time national COY
Oklahoma State: Henry "Hank" Iba (1934-1970) 654-317, 8 NCAA tourneys, 15 conference titles, 2 NCAA titles, 3-time conference COY
Texas: Rick Barnes (1998-present) 322-123, 13 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 3-time conference COY
Texas A&M: Shelby Metcalf (1963-1990) 438-306, 5 NCAA tourneys, 6 conference titles
Texas Tech: Gerald Myers (1970-1991) 325-262, 4 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles
Illinois: Lou Henson (1975-1996) 423-224, 12 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY
Indiana: Bobby Knight (1971-2000) 661-240, 24 NCAA tourneys, 11 conference titles, 3 NCAA titles, 1 NIT title, 4-time national COY, 5-time conference COY
Iowa: Tom Davis (1986-1999) 270-139, 9 NCAA tourneys, 1-time national COY, 1-time conference COY
Michigan: Johnny Orr (1968-1980) 209-113, 4 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time national COY, 2-time conference COY
Michigan State: Tom Izzo (1995-present) 355-152, 13 NCAA tourneys, 5 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 4-time national COY, 2-time conference COY
Minnesota: Louis "Doc" Cooke (1897-1924) 254-142-3, 5 conference titles, 3 national titles
Nebraska: Danny Nee (1986-2000) 254-190, 5 conference titles, 1 NIT title
Northwestern: Arthur "Dutch" Lonborg (1927-1950) 236-203, 2 conference titles, 1 Helms title
Ohio State: Fred Taylor (1958-1976) 297-158, 5 NCAA tourneys, 7 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 2-time national COY
Penn State: Bruce Parkhill (1985-1995) 181-169, 1 NCAA tourney, 1 conference title, 1-time conference COY
Purdue: Ward "Piggy" Lambert (1916-1946) 371-152, 11 conference titles, 1 Helms title
Wisconsin: Walter "Doc" Meanwell (1911-1917, 1920-1934) 246-99, 8 conference titles, 3 Helms titles