Oh, how Johnny Orr loved the refs -- just kidding

When Johnny saw black and white stripes, he often saw red

Mike Hlas
Published: January 2 2014 | 12:07 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:33 am in
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I wrote this column for the April 17, 1994 Gazette, days after Johnny Orr retired as Iowa State's men's basketball coach. I thought you might get a kick out of some of Orr's more-colorful quotes.

Fans want one primary thing from their coaches. Namely, wins.

We in the media want something more: quotes, sound bites with zing.

Iowa State's next men's basketball coach could be a combination of Red Auerbach, Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Riley, but he'll be hard-pressed to match Johnny Orr in quotability.

Orr had an open contempt for game officials that was rivaled by few in his profession. Some examples:

"I'm not going to say anything about the referees. Because if I did, it would take me two days, and nothing would be good."

"I told my centers before the game they would probably foul out because I knew the refs would probably be out to get us."

Asked if the crowd was neutral at the 1986 ISU-Illinois game in the Rosemont (Ill.) Horizon: "Well, it was, but (Illinois) had three referees."

"In the first half I thought, 'Damn, where'd those referees come from?' I thought they were bad, but Big Ten referees never have been any good." - following a 1989 loss at Michigan.

"We've had nothing but terrible calls from him ( Woody Mayfield). My players hate him. I don't like him."

Asked to rate the officials on a scale of 1 to 10 after a 90-62 win over Colorado Jan. 21, 1986: "Ohhhh ... zero. Because they were terrible."

"If there hadn't been any officials it probably would have been a better game."

"But you know you're only paying them $350 to watch something like that (an alleged missed goaltending call). It hurts their eyes. Stealing money, isn't it?"

"They (the officials) told me, 'Don't embarrass us.' I said, 'We aren't. You're embarrassing yourself."'

Not all of Orr's time was spent complaining about officials.

On wire service polls: "I think they're good. I don't think they're valid, but I think they're good."

On not recruiting Matt Bullard out of West Des Moines: "Made a mistake. Made an error. It makes you mad."

On basketball in Japan after his Cyclones played there in 1988: "They really love the 3-pointers. They'll shoot through the lane and drive in for a lay-up, then kick it out to 3-point land. Their fans go cuckoo clock for that."

To a roomful of reporters after his team beat Iowa 54-50 in Iowa City in 1985: "I know this kills all you Hawks."

After ISU upset Michigan in the second-round of the 1986 NCAA tourney: "This is bigger (than getting to the national title game as Michigan's coach 10 years before). I took over a program six years ago that hadn't done anything. People thought I was nutty."

On returning to the University of Michigan in 1989 to coach his team against the Wolverines: "It was not that emotional. It's emotional to me, coach, when they give me a $20,000 raise. Then it really gets me emotional. That gets me excited."

Besides the quips and insults, Orr never contained his enthusiasm after victories. Phrases like "tickled to death," "so happy for my team," and "so proud of my guys," popped up over and over after wins.

It was 1985, and Iowa State smashed Colorado 76-52 in the first round of the Big Eight tournament. With 24 seconds left in the game, Orr smooched assistant Jim Hallihan on the cheek.

"Well, I'm excited, man," he said.

Let's see how many assistants the new guy kisses.

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