Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hanging with Johnny Orr

I had the privilege to ride with former Iowa State basketball coach Johnny Orr in a parade last Saturday. Orr and I go back to the mid 80s when I work in the Iowa State sports information office.

Orr still looks good at 83. He lives on a golf course in West Des Moines, Iowa (one of his homes) and plays lots of golf anyway. He quipped that he went to coaching so he could play golf.

These days, Orr is a pitchman for Iowa Network Services. He attends about 25 events for the telecommunications company.

Fans still adore Orr and they told him so during the parade. They cheered and yelled, "Hey Johnny." Orr made his signature coaching gesture a few times too: the raised arms and clinched fists. I smiled inside and outside.

Orr loves to tell stories and he told me several.

One was how he recruited Barry Stevens a talented player out of Flint, Michigan. Stevens grades weren't good, but then Orr found out the school counselor attended Iowa State. A story with a happy ending as Orr said Stevens graduated from Iowa State.

Another one was about a Detroit sportswriter who tangled with Orr when he coached Michigan. Orr said he continued to badger him when Iowa State played Michigan in the NCAA tournament in Minneapolis. Well, when the Cyclones upset the Wolverines, Orr was looking for that writer at the post game press conference. He was obviously going to ask him what he thought of Orr's Iowa State team after the victory. The writer never showed up.

I asked Orr if he ever met John Wooden. He said his Michigan teams played UCLA three times all in Los Angeles. Michigan went 0-3. He confirmed that Wooden was a great guy.

But for all Orr's success at Michigan and Iowa State, you can tell his first love is for the Cyclones. He said once that other than marrying his wife, the best decision he ever made was coming to Iowa.

I think he made a great decision. And thousands of Iowa State fans still feel the same way too. I experienced a sampling Saturday.

No comments: