Rollie Massimino moved to Florida for the golf.
The legendary Villanova basketball coach who led the Wildcats from 1973 to 1992 and won a national title envisioned South Florida the way so many others do: A place to retire. For a while, he was playing 54 holes a day with buddies like commentator Bill Raftery, former Sixer Bill Cunningham and the late NBA and Penn coach Chuck Daly.
Then, in 2005, the athletic director of Northwood University, in Palm Beach, called. Massimino knew him from his days at Stony Brook in the late ’60s. He agreed to try one more basketball challenge. Now, at age 81, Massimino is at Keiser University, a decade into building a program from the ground up. Keiser, consistently been one of the top NAIA teams during his tenure, is off to a 21-3 start. Billy Penn recently caught up with Massimino over the phone to talk about Keiser and some of his favorite Villanova memories.
A lot of my friends from Philly and South Jersey congregated down here. We all lived close together and played 54 holes a day until I got a little tired. They asked me to start the program which I have done and have been successful.
54 holes a day?
54 a day. Average. It was with Cunningham and Raftery and (late Penn and NBA coach) Chuck Daly and (NHL legend) Bobby Orr and (former NFL quarterback) Bob Griese.
Do you still play?
Not at all. Not playing anymore. I’m getting too old for that.
How often do you come to back to Philadelphia?
All the time. I’m very excited to be honored by Coaches vs. Cancer down in Center City on April 9. I have four children who live there. So we spend a lot of time when we can in Philadelphia.
(Villanova coach) Jay (Wright) and I talk at least once a week. And all my guys come back. The national championship team will be down next weekend just to taste my wife’s cooking.
What do you talk about with Jay?
What do you think? Checkers? We’re talking about basketball. He’s done a great job with that team. He knows about our players and I know about his players. I talk to all my guys.
That 1985 team must still be close if they’re coming down for a visit
It was a wonderful experience together. We’ve carried it over for over 30 years due to Chuck Everson, who has done a great job of keeping everyone together.
When you look back on that game, beating heavily favored Georgetown in what’s considered the “perfect game,” can you still believe how it came together?
We still had 17 turnovers. But we were 9 for 10 in the second half. If we missed one more shot we could’ve lost the game. We only took a few shots the second half. We played really good defense on Patrick Ewing and Eddie Pinckney.
What did you do to celebrate that night?
We all got together the players and families at the Ramada Inn and Lexington Kentucky. We were up all night.
How does the atmosphere in Florida compare to what you were used to in Philly?
Villanova came down here to play and we opened up the gym with them. We’ve played seven Final Four teams as exhibitions in the beginning of the year, and we’ve played Florida, Miami, Pittsburgh, Hofstra and Fordham. We played Vermont. Played Dartmouth. So we’ve played some outstanding competition.
Reform has been swirling around the NCAA for a while. Would you be in favor of changing things up and allowing players to be paid with more than an athletic scholarship?
That all has to be decided by the hierarchy. It has to be controlled obviously and done right. That’s very, very critical.
But what about you personally?
It depends on what it’s all about. It’s the hierarchy that has to make that decision, not me. If it’s something that’s agreed, then fine. But if not, fine too.
You said you’re too old to golf but apparently not too old to coach. How much longer will you keep doing it?
Oh, until I fall off the ladder. I don’t know. As long as I feel good I’ll still be coaching.