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.”
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.”
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.”