Johnny Orr, who made more than a name for himself as the head coach of Michigan and Iowa State college basketball teams, died on Tuesday. He was 86.

Johnny Orr Dies

After serving as the head coach at the University of Massachusetts, Orr took the assistant coaching job at the University of Michigan. After just one season, he was promoted to head coach and remained with the squad until 1980. During his 11 seasons with the Wolverines, Orr racked up a 208-113 record, becoming the winningest coach in the school’s history. He led the squad to a national title game and two Elite Eight appearances and was named the 1976 National Coach of the Year.

Leaving Michigan behind, Orr took the head coaching job at Iowa State, where the basketball team had long been lacking in success. Prior to Orr taking the reigns, the Cyclones hadn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance in 40 years. He took them to the dance six times and coached them to the Sweet Sixteen. When he left coaching the Cyclones in 1994, he’d established himself as Iowa State’s winningest coach as well.

Over the course of his career, Orr was known and lauded for his infectious personality and goodwill just as much as he was for his coaching. He had a habit of calling everyone his favorite term of endearment – “coach” – and was credited with even making the volatile Bobby Knight crack a smile. His entrance into Iowa’s Hilton Coliseum is one for the history books, as the crowd-favorite coach would wait until the last seconds to make a grand entrance to “Tonight Show” theme music and pump his fists as the fans yelled “Heeeere’s Johnny!”

Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg On Johnny Orr

He was my hero,” said Fred Hoiberg, who played three years for Orr and currently serves as Iowa State’s head coach. “As a kid, just to see him walk out of that tunnel was what you waited for on game nights. Just to see his enthusiasm and passion. He was a father figure to so many of us. He impacted so many lives and made all of us better people. Not only was he a great basketball coach, he was even a better person.”

Orr played college basketball at Illinois in the 1940s before signing up with the Navy towards the end of World War II. When he returned to college, he played at Beloit. Orr played professional ball with the St. Louis Bombers and the Waterloo Hawks in the BAA, the precursor to the NBA.

Orr is survived by his wife Rome; daughters Jennifer, Leslie and Rebecca; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

– Chelsea Regan

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