Rollie Massimino was the head coach of Villanova’s men’s basketball team from 1973 to 1992. He won 816 games as a college basketball coach, including 355 in his 19 years at Villanova. He has been called the architect of one of the great underdog championship wins in sports history when he coached No. 8 seed Villanova to the 1985 NCAA title, knocking off Patrick Ewing and heavily favored Georgetown in the championship game. During his nearly fifty years as a college basketball coach, the Hillside, N.J., native was also head coach at Stony Brook, UNLV, Cleveland State, and recently at Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But none of his coaching successes would ever rival the 1985 miracle win at Lexington, Kentucky.
In his first college head coaching job at Stony Brook, he led the program to the NCAA small colleges tournament in his first season. After two years at Stony Brook, he became Chuck Daly’s assistant at Penn, and two years later he took over the Villanova program when it was an independent in 1973-74, and helped lead it into a previous version of the Atlantic 10 and then into the Big East in 1980. He reached the NCAA tournament six times in his first 11 years with the Wildcats, but the 1984-85 team became legendary. After finishing the 1985 regular season tied for third in the Big East, then losing to St. John’s in the semifinal game of the Big East tournament, Villanova entered the NCAA tournament at 19-10, and despite being a No. 8 seed, the Wildcats advanced steadily to the Final Four, along with St. John’s and Georgetown, in the only Final Four in tournament history to include three schools from the same conference.
The rest was more College Basketball history, with Villanova beating Memphis State to reach the championship game against the reigning champions Georgetown, and then shooting an amazing 78.6 percent from the field to defeat Ewing and the Hoyas for the 1985 Championship. This game has been watched with fascination over and over, has been written about endlessly, and is clearly a significant reason for Rollie’s induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Rollie’s career at Villanova began without controversy in 1973, possibly because he had never visited the school before taking the head coaching job, yet he would become just the third coach to lead the Wildcats in the team’s 36-year history, and he would later say that he knew immediately that it was his “dream job”. During the next four years, under his aggressive leadership, the Villanova team’s reputation grew, as they joined the Eastern Eight Conference and won two titles in three years, and then joined the Big East Conference in just the third year of its existence, His recruits from the New York area propelled the team to many successes, and coming into the ’84-’85 season the wildcat fans had reason to be optimistic, with talent like
John Pinone, Ed Pinckney, and Stewart Granger contributing to winning seasons. Which is why the Villanova fans were somewhat disappointed with the team’s lackluster season finish of 18-9 going into the 1985 NCAA postseason tournament. But that was where the disappointment ended. The team chemistry came together with successive wins over Dayton, Michigan, and Maryland, all by low-score close margin, but the real challenge came against perennial champion North Carolina at the Mid-East Regional Finals. Trailing the No. 2-seeded Tar Heels at halftime by five points, the Wildcats were inspired by a most passionate, but most unusual, performance by “Coach Mass”, with references to pasta and athletic performance all mixed together with shouting and waving arms. Whatever the effect, it worked, and Villanova was on its way to the Final Four for just the second time in its history, with a 56-44 win over arguably one of the best teams in the country.
The rest, as they say, is history. Even after his departure from Villanova, Rollie would continue to be long remembered for his inimitable coaching style, his famous spaghetti dinners, his “you are part of the family” relationship with his players, and the permanent imprint he left on the basketball history of Philadelphia. Coach Wright’s close relationship with Rollie allowed for him to once again be involved with the Villanova Basketball program in recent years, and the reaction of the fans to his presence at the 2016 Final Four added significantly to the mood of the crowd throughout that heady weekend in Houston. Although Rollie was suffering visibly from his various illnesses, you could see that he was both giving and getting energy from the Villanova faithful during that momentous occasion. “This was great,” Rollie said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.” - And neither would we. Rollie’s presence made the occasion even more special, if that could be possible.
Rollie continued to coach Keiser University for the past eleven years, building an impressive record there, and showing that he still had a knack for bringing out the best in his players, regardless of the venue, and despite his age. He was recently quoted in Sports illustrated as saying, “I wouldn’t be coaching if I didn’t enjoy it. It keeps me young. I can yell, I can scream. I can still punch a little bit, you know what I mean?”. With a career record of 816-462, Rollie is one of 22 men’s basketball coaches with at least 800 wins at four-year colleges. He will be missed by everyone who knew him and who appreciated his unique contribution to Villanova sports history. Rollie is survived by his wife Mary Jane, of nearly sixty years, along with his three sons, Tom, R.C. and Andrew; two daughters, Lee Ann and Michelle; and 17 grandchildren.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
A Tribute to Bob Capone
January 2, 2015
The Blue White Scholarship Foundation Named "2017 Top-Rated Nonprofit" by GreatNonprofits