On Wednesday, August 30th, 2017, Villanova’s legendary coach Rollie Massimino passed away at the age of 82. Massimino was the head coach and the leader of the 1985 NCAA Division I Men’s National Champion Villanova Wildcats team that upset the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas that were led by head coach John Thompson and NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. Nova didn’t have the star studded roster that Georgetown possessed, but they played as a team and played the game the right way. Coach Massimino played a major factor in regards to inspiring his players and letting them know that they were good enough to win. Coach Massimino had a great coaching career, highlighted by winning the 1985 National Championship and winning 20 or more regular season games ten different times during his tenure at Villanova, which lasted from 1973 to 1992. Rollie Massimino continued to coach throughout his lifetime, even up until the day that he passed away. Rollie was most recently the coach at Keiser, an NAIA Division II program. Overall, Coach Massimino earned 816 victories over the course of his career at the collegiate level. Massimino’s accolades as a coach are very impressive, but his greatest pride and joy seemed to be off the court.
Coach Rollie Massimino was the type of person who puts his players first. Coach was a great role model for his players off the court and taught them the importance of achieving a quality education and the importance of earning a degree that will last you a lifetime. For many people, basketball doesn’t last forever and Coach Massimino made sure that his players were prepared for life in general. As a coach, you form a bond with your team that is greater than the team. The team becomes a second family to you and you love the players like your own son or daughter. Rollie Massimino loved his players and wanted them to feel like a part of his own family. He would invite the entire team over for a favorite of his, a nice relaxing pasta dinner with family. Italians are big on family time and connecting with each other and Rollie was big on family bonding.
Rollie Massimino also had a lasting impact on the coaching staff and the university as a whole. Rollie was the mentor for current Wildcats head coach, Jay Wright. Jay Wright learned a lot from his time as an assistant with Rollie. Jay learned the importance of not just being a great coach and getting the best out of your players athletically, but also the importance of helping players realize their potential and getting the best out of them academically as well. To this day, Villanova Univesity continues to have one of the top student athlete graduation rates amongst Division I programs. Rollie Massimino set that precedent and Jay Wright strived to continue that precedent.
Speaking of continuing precedents and continuing traditions, Villanova basketball uses a slogan that states, “Once a wildcat, always a wildcat.” Coach Massimino stressed the importance of keeping a bond with players and coaching staff years down the line, even when everyone goes their seperate ways. Alumni get togethers such as golf outings are great ways for the Villanova basketball family to reconnect. I think that it is awesome when programs have events like these to bond past generations with current generations. Rollie Massimino started these types of traditions and Jay Wright continued to keep these great traditions going. Jay Wright often utilizes his Twitter account to allow fans to keep tabs on past Nova players. Coach Wright has tweeted about Kyle Lowry making the NBA All Star Team, but has also tweeted pictures of former players and how they are doing playing oveseas. Coach also tweets photos from the practice facility with former Nova players working out and providing wisdom to the current Wildcats players. When watching the 2016 National Championship, you could see the type of love that Nova’s former players continued to show for the current team. Coach Massimino was a huge part of this tradition of former coaches and players continuing to support the program over the years.
The 2016 National Championship game was arguably the greatest title game in college basketball history. The 1985 National Championship game was great in its own right, but the constant back and forth action and the ending of the 2016 title game is what made it just as great, if not greater than the 1985 title game. I previously mentioned about the former players that where in attendance supporting the current team. Amongst the Nova family, directly behind the bench was Rollie Massimino. Rollie was fighting health problems and was directed by his doctors that it was unsafe to fly to Houston for the Final Four. Rollie didn’t attend the Final Four game against Oklahoma, but did attend the National Championship game. Rollie called Jay and told him that if we make it to the National Championship game on Monday night that I will be there. Rollie was a man of his word and was there to support the current team. Rollie seemed to be in good spirits throughout the game and was happy to be behind the bench watching this great game develop. As the game went on, everyone knew that it was going to go down to the wire. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit an incredible three to tie up the ball game. Coach calls a timeout and draws up a play. Kris Jenkins inbounds the ball to Arch and as Arch is dribbling up the floor, Jenkins is trailing the play and Arch shuffles it off to Jenkins. Right before time expires, Jenkins puts up a three pointer from deep, the potential game winner. The ball drops threw the net and Nova is the national champions in dramatic fashion! The players reacted as you would probably expect, but Jay Wright’s reaction was pretty calm. His first thought was that there was time left on the clock, but luckily, time expired. The reactions from everyone involved were great, but seeing Rollie Massimino’s reaction behind the Villanova bench was truly an awesome moment! Rollie’s face was filled with pride and joy over what just happened and he was honored to have been there to witness his family accomplish something so remarkable and so great!
Rollie Massimino formed a great legacy at Villanova, the basketball world, and the world in general. Coach Massimino was what many people call a basketball lifer. Coach remained around the game his entire life and contributed great things to the game of basketball. With that said, nothing comes close to the positive impact that coach left on the Villanova University basketball program and the university as a whole. Coach may not be with us anymore, but his lasting legacy and impact will always be felt. Remember, “Once a wildcat, always a wildcat!” Rollie Massimino will always be a Villanova Wildcat! Thoughts and prayers for Coach Rollie Massimino and his family during this difficult time.
Author: Nick Eberhardt
Image From CSN Philly