Feb. 26, 2003
By John Dodderidge
For 14 seasons at Iowa State, Johnny Orr hosted some of the most exciting basketball in Cyclone history in front of 14,000 diehard fans at Hilton Coliseum. Shortly after his arrival in Ames in 1980, the school band started playing the "Herrre's Johnny" theme song from the Tonight Show when Orr would enter the arena before each home game.
That is just one of the many lasting memories Orr has from his 34 years as a college basketball coach. The college game hasn't been the same since Orr retired from coaching in 1994 with 466 career victories.
Most of his time in retirement has been spent on the golf course or traveling abroad. Orr has a home in both Savannah, Ga., and central Iowa.
"More than anything, I have a good time and most of it is centered around golf. That's why I came to Savannah. It's a great place," said Orr, who also finds time to speak to different groups, like the high school coaches in Iowa.
Since stepping down from the Iowa State job in 1994, Orr said he has had several opportunities to get back into coaching. He came close to taking the Baylor job right after he retired.
"I miss coaching, but I don't miss the other parts, like the recruiting," Orr said. "I enjoy the coaches and still enjoy going to the Final Four and seeing the guys in the business."
Orr also stays in touch with most of his former players, some of whom played in the NBA. Jeff Hornacek (Utah Jazz) and Fred Hoiberg (Indiana Pacers) were two of his best players he coached at Iowa State. Rudy Tomjanovich, head coach of the Houston Rockets, played for Orr at Michigan in 1969-70.
"I'll always remember the players. We've had a lot of players go on and be successful in other jobs. I've also had some great assistants (Jim Dutcher, Bill Frieder, Fred Snowden and Jim Hallihan to name a few), who have gone on to have great success," Orr said.
Orr's coaching career was nothing short of successful. He remains the winningest coach in the history at two major schools - Iowa State (218-200) and Michigan (209-113). His teams played in 13 postseason tournaments, including 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament, and posted eight 20-win or better seasons.
His 1976 team at Michigan made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to the top-ranked and undefeated Indiana Hoosiers. That team featured Rickey Green and Phil Hubbard, and came back the next year to finish the regular season as the No. 1 team in the country.
"I worked for the best AD at Michigan in Don Canham. I met some great people there and enjoyed my time there. I have nothing against Michigan. I love Michigan. We had a super run there from 1974-77. Those were some great teams," said Orr, who left Ann Arbor in 1980 to try and turn around the Iowa State program.
In Orr's fifth season in Ames, he led the Cyclones to their first NCAA Tournament berth in 40 years. He also turned an empty arena into a packed house. He would take five more teams at Iowa State to the NCAA Tournament and leave the program in good standing when he left after the '94 season.
"I had great times at Iowa State," Orr said. "We had great fans, super, super fans, the best I've ever seen. We had a lot of rivalries with guys like Norm (Stewart), Larry (Brown), Roy (Williams), Billy (Tubbs) and Danny Nee. I couldn't have been treated any better. They made it possible for me to retire and made my life comfortable."
Another highlight in Orr's career was his involvement with the NABC. He served on the board for several years and was the president in 1991-92. He played a big role in moving the NABC office to Kansas City and hiring Jim Haney as the NABC's executive director.
"Those were great times," Orr said of his NABC work. "That was fun to do and exciting. I met some great coaches and other people through the NABC. The opportunities I had were unbelievable. I wish all of the coaches could become a member of the board and see how hard the coaches work. I know some don't appreciate it. It was very satisfying and a lot of work. I admire anyone who takes that on."
Orr said that expectations are getting tougher on coaches. Being one of the 64 teams involved in March Madness is almost a requirement if a coach wants to keep his job, he added.
Those days of worrying about getting into the NCAA Tournament are behind the popular and humorous coach. He now worries about making a 3-foot putt for par.
Johnny Orr's Memorable Teams