Bill Frieder Reminisces About Johnny Orr In First Trip To Hilton Coliseum

Frieder, Bill1

Bill Frieder calls it the happiest seven years of his life. From 1973-80, Frieder was an assistant coach at the University of Michigan under legendary coach Johnny Orr.

It was during this time where the understudy learned the ropes of college basketball. It was also a time where he learned that basketball wasn’t just about wins and losses. It was about developing relationships and having a little fun along the way.

“I tell everyone this all the time. The seven happiest years my wife and I ever had was the seven years in Ann Arbor as Johnny’s assistant.” Frieder said. “He was such a great person, a good guy and fun to be around. On top of it, he didn’t have an ego. He allowed his staffs to do things. He allowed his players to play.”

Bill Frieder and Johnny Orr in 1979.

Bill Frieder and Johnny Orr in 1979.

Frieder was in town over the weekend covering the Iowa State-Kansas matchup as the color analyst for the Westwood One national radio broadcast.

If you need a little background on Frieder, he was a darn good coach too. After Orr left for Iowa State in 1980, Frieder took over the reins of the Michigan program for nine seasons (1980-89). He led the Wolverines to four NCAA Tournaments, two Big Ten titles and a record of 188-90. He later took the head job at Arizona State, leading the Sun Devils to two NCAA Tournaments and four NIT appearances in eight seasons (1989-97).

He credits Orr for making it possible to be his successor at Michigan.

“He recommended me,” Frieder said. “It was kind of determined after we went to the Final Four (1976) that I would be the next coach at Michigan after Johnny left. He certainly didn’t hurt me any. When you have your head coach out promoting your assistants, it’s great. Johnny did that for everyone.”

When Orr left Michigan for Iowa State in 1980, it sent tremors in the college basketball landscape. Orr was the head man at Michigan for 12 seasons, directing the Wolverines to three NCAA Tournaments and two Big Ten titles. His 1975-76 UM squad lost to Indiana in the national championship game.

Meanwhile, the Iowa State men’s basketball program was stuck in reverse.

Frieder still admits he was a little stunned when Orr left Ann Arbor for Ames.

“I was shocked, but it was no different when I went to Arizona State in 1989,” Frieder said.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but originally I was the guy Iowa State was targeting. Long story short, Iowa State told him they wanted a head coach and they were going to pay more money. Johnny asked Iowa State, ‘How much are you going to pay?’ It was almost twice as much he was making at Michigan, so all of a sudden he was interested,” Frieder laughed.

The rest is obviously history. Orr resurrected the Cyclone basketball program and became one of the most popular figures in Iowa State history.

One of Orr’s greatest victories in his Cyclone career came at the expense of Frieder. Iowa State met Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1986. Michigan was the No. 2 seed and the champions of the Big Ten, but the Cyclones scored the upset with a 72-69 victory to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

“They (Iowa State) had a great team,” Frieder said. “They had (Jeff) Hornacek. We had a good team, but they beat us and outplayed us. It’s funny, I had one matchup with Johnny and he beat us. And then I had one matchup against Michigan and Steve Fisher and we (Arizona State) beat them. It’s funny how that goes. That Iowa State team that beat us was great.”

Frieder & Hoiberg1

Despite all of his seasons coaching, Frieder made his first trip to Hilton Coliseum on Saturday. He got emotional when he saw the Orr statue and “Johnny’s” for the first time. Hilton Magic was everything he heard it was.

“I am so happy to be here,” Frieder said. “This place is electric. I was so impressed with GameDay today. This is a fantastic environment.”


About Mike Green

I'm in my 21st year working in the Athletics Communications office at Iowa State and in my third year as Director of Communications. My passion has always been ISU Athletics and the seed was planted by my father, Ken, who was an All-Big Eight pitcher for Iowa State in 1960. I graduated from UNI in 1993, where I was a two-year letterwinner on the golf team, and received my master's at ISU in 1997. I've covered volleyball, wrestling, baseball, golf, football and men's basketball at ISU, including 13 seasons as the men's hoops contact. It's an honor to be the football contact for Coach Campbell and the Cyclones. I've got stories to tell, and I love telling them.
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12 Responses to Bill Frieder Reminisces About Johnny Orr In First Trip To Hilton Coliseum

  1. Larry says:

    Funny thing about that Michigan-ISU game. I remember watching it and we were getting beat pretty good. Dick Vitale was calling the game and actually said on the air “It looks like the junior varsity playing the varsity.” Well, Johnny heard that and it really drove a steak in their relationship. He later called Vitale out on national TV about something else but you could tell there was no love lost between those two after that comment.


    • Steve says:

      It was Stockton who made that comment. Dick Stockton. I’ve disliked him ever since!!


    • jlynch says:

      No, I have the game on tape somewhere stashed away. The announcers were none other than Bret Musberger and Billy Packer. Musberger said the JV thing. Later in the second have he said, “This (referring to Iowa State) is a well-oiled machine.” And after that they leaned toward the Clones with the commentary. Great game to watch. I can still remember skinny Ron Virgil scoring over Michigan’s big man Roy Tarply. Orr knew how to mismatch.


  2. Kent says:

    I remember that game so vividly, and remember that comment too. I think it’s one of the reasons Vitale didn’t make it to Hilton until fairly recently.


    • jlynch says:

      Vital’s first ever ISU game was last year with Michigan and Orr’s last appearance at Hilton. Orr was the reason Vital never did a game there. Orr didn’t ever say in public, but he didn’t care for Dickie V.


  3. Bill Charles says:

    It wasn’t Vitale. It was a CBS commentator.


  4. Mike Green says:

    Yes, it was actually Dick Stockton, who was doing the game on CBS.


  5. Russ says:

    I remember an interview, and I think it was after the Michigan game in Minneapolis, where Vitale reminded Johnny how his Detroit University team played Johnny’s Michigan team a few years’ prior and Johnny quipped, ” Ya and I beat your a$$ too!”


    • Steve says:

      That was Vitale and Jim Valvano when they were with ESPN.


    • jlynch says:

      It wasn’t after the Michigan game. It was Selection Sunday when ISU got their seed and the cameras were there while Dickie V was commenting. They tied into Orr to get a comment and DV mentioned the last time they coached against each other when DV was at Detroit.


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