Rollie Massimino died before he could be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He was selected as a finalist in 2017 but fell short of induction. His coaching career is certainly worthy of inclusion.
Reasonable minds can differ over an accomplished coach being admitted to the Hall. If you examine Massimino’s rich life in the game, few can match the years the former Villanova coach devoted to basketball and all he endured to stay on the floor until the end of his days. Rollie Massimino was truly a basketball lifer, and he coached the game until his dying days.?
Massimino was a larger-than-life figure, a true character when the game was full of characters. Like most coaches of his generation, Coach Mass started with a high school team, then took over at Stony Brook before sitting beside Chuck Daly as an assistant at Penn. In the early 1970s, Massimino became the head coach at Villanova. He was a stalwart of the newly formed Big East, along with John Thompson, Lou Carnesecca, Bill Raftery and Jim Boeheim. Fiery and funny, Coach Mass built Villanova into a battling contender, reaching 11 NCAA tournaments, and he engineered one of the most iconic and shocking upsets in basketball history with the Wildcats’ win over mighty Georgetown at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena in 1985.
The 1985 NCAA championship was the high-water mark for Massimino, who unceremoniously left Villanova to replace Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV in 1992. After only two seasons, Coach Mass left the Runnin’ Rebels in controversial fashion. He took over at Cleveland State a few years later. Following seven forgettable seasons in Cleveland, his coaching career seemed to be at its end after he’d posted more than 500 Division I wins.
As it turned out, Massimino’s coaching career was far from over. He simply couldn’t give up the game.
After moving to Florida, where he could pal around and play golf with lifelong friends Daly, Raftery and Billy Cunningham, Massimino didn’t settle easily into the retired coach’s life. Instead he took a head-coaching job at Northwood University (now known as Keiser University), an NAIA school in West Palm Beach, Florida, that was just starting a basketball program. When Massimino took the job, Keiser didn’t even have a gym, only a few outdoor courts. Off the beaten path, Massimino has coached the past eight years at Keiser, and he has done so through bouts with cancer that were far more taxing than Massimino let on. His friends would attend…