Former Beloit basketball star and Big Ten basketball coach Johnny Orr’49 died in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 31, 2013, at age 86.
As a Beloit basketball player under legendary coach Dolph Stanley, Johnny helped propel Beloit’s basketball program to national prominence. He was named Beloit’s MVP three years running between 1946-49, when the Buccaneers won three Midwest Conference titles. He was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity and was inducted into Beloit’s Athletic Hall of Honor.
After Beloit, he became one of the nation’s most successful Division I men’s basketball coaches. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year twice, and led 10 teams to NCAA Championship berths while coaching at Massachusetts, Michigan, and Iowa State. He coached 18 players who went on to the NBA.
Johnny served as the University of Michigan’s head coach from 1968-1980, when he led the Wolverines to four consecutive NCAA tournament berths and the 1976 NCAA championship game. He left Michigan to coach a struggling Iowa State program in 1980. He turned the program around and sustained that success over 14 seasons. He holds the record for the most wins in men’s basketball history at Iowa State, including six NCAA championship appearances. He retired from coaching in 1994. In 2011, the Iowa State Athletic Association honored Johnny with a larger-than-life statue, which still welcomes basketball fans to the Hilton Coliseum vestibule.
Johnny was born in Taylorville, Ill., and is survived by his wife, Romala “Romie” Robinson Orr’49, and daughters Jennifer, Leslie, and Rebecca.