Obituary: Johnny Orr, Coached Men’s Basketball from 1963-66

Johnny Orr, who coached the men’s basketball team from 1963-66, died Dec. 31 at the age of 86.

Orr, who succeeded Matt Zunic as head coach of the UMass team, then known as the Redmen, compiled a 39-33 record before taking a job as an insurance executive. He returned to coaching the next year, joining the Michigan staff as an assistant. He was promoted to head coach the following year.

At Michigan, Orr was national coach of the year in 1976, when the Wolverines lost to Indiana in the NCAA title game. In 12 seasons at Michigan, Orr led his team to four NCAA tournaments and 209 wins, the most on school history.

Orr took over the program at Iowa State in 1980 and guided the Cyclones to their first NCAA tournament in 1985. The next year, Iowa State reached the Sweet 16 by defeating Michigan. In 14 seasons with the Cyclones, Orr racked up a 218-200 record, setting school marks for wins and losses that still stand, and reaching the NCAA tourney six times.   

Born in Taylorville, Ill., Orr was a multi-sport star. He enrolled at the University of Illinois and was a second-team all-Big Ten wide receiver in football and earned honorable mention all-conference in basketball. Forced to choose between being drafted into the Army or enlisting in another branch of the service, Orr joined the Navy and served 15 months.

He returned to school at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he played basketball and met his future wife Romie.

A first-round NBA draft pick by the St. Louis Bombers of the NBA, Orr’s brief professional career included time with the Waterloo Hawks.

His first coaching job was at Milton High School in Wisconsin, where he took the team to its first state tournament. He moved to Dubuque Senior High School and coached there until joining the University of Wisconsin staff in 1959.