Monday Musings: Lots to learn from the Johnny Orr story

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I haven’t written much about the recent passing of Iowa State’s legendary basketball coach and the father of Hilton Magic, Johnny Orr. That’s because when Coach Orr passed away last Tuesday; I felt that there were more qualified people for Cyclone fans to hear from as opposed to me.

During his youth, our Brent Blum was a Johnny Orr disciple. Add to that Blum’s remarkable ability to beautifully piece the right words together in the perfect spots and he was the obvious man to write the “we will miss you Coach” column on this website.

The Des Moines Register’s Rick Brown and Randy Peterson, as well as WHO-TV sports director Keith Murphy all worked with and knew Orr for decades. The Register’s four-page special on Orr was magnificent. In fact, I have since framed it and hung the front-page in my office.

John Walters and Eric Heft from the Cyclone Radio Network knew Orr better than most. If their 30-minute pregame show leading up to Iowa State’s thumping of Northern Illinois didn’t get the hair standing on the back of your neck, I don’t know what would.

But like many of you reading this, I came into my “Iowa State years” well after Orr had retired as head coach of the Cyclones. I don’t have many memories from his years in Ames. It stinks, but I just don’t. That is a fact. 

About three hours before Orr made an appearance at this year’s Michigan game, I was sitting in the front row of Hilton Coliseum and having a nice conversation John Walters, who seemed to be enjoying telling me some good ole stories about Coach Orr. I was intrigued and by about two hours prior to tip, I was jacked to the moon in anticipation of Orr’s famous entrance later in the afternoon. 

With another college basketball legend, Dick Vitale, in attendance, that Sunday afternoon most certainly lived up to the hype. A Cyclone victory was just the cherry on top.

Ever since that Sunday in November and the days following Orr’s passing, I have been immersed with the career of Iowa State’s icon. I have spoken with some of the grizzled veterans in this business and have grown to really value the life that Orr lived, even if I never actually met him myself.

In closing, I feel like we all can learn a lot from the entire “Johnny Orr story.”

Always shoot for the stars. Never settle for anything in any aspect of your life. Live life to the absolute fullest and be passionate about everything that you do. 

Orr leaving Michigan for Iowa State in 1980 was the upset of all upsets folks. Orr left one of college basketball’s top programs to try and insert life into a dead one. Of course, he did.

Thirty-four years ago, the Iowa State athletic department didn’t settle for its next head coach. The way it went down was a bit fluky, but Iowa State ultimately snagged one of the biggest names in the sport. It was unthinkable at the time but Iowa State got their man and that investment has been paying off ever since.

We all can do this in our every day lives.

To the college student reading this, don’t be afraid to ask out that beautiful girl you’ve had your eye on for months. If she shoots you down, big deal. At least you tried and who knows? She might say yes!

Personally, I shouldn’t put a ceiling on how “big” we can make this website. needs to keep growing. We will not settle for anything. 

If you’re a professional (in any field) reading this and are not happy with your current job, it is never too late to try and change that. Do what you have to do to make yourself excited about going to work every day. Be happy. 

Iowa State should never forget about the Orr hire and never fall into the “but it is only Iowa State” trap. Why can’t Iowa State win the Big 12 (or dare I say more?) in any sport? Just imagine if Orr had the facilities and resources at his disposal that Iowa State’s coaches do today? Something tells me that we would all be staring at a few more banners in Hilton Coliseum right now.  

Is Johnny Orr the most important sports figure in Iowa State history?

I’ve heard that question tossed around a lot lately. As I have already documented, I didn’t ever have the opportunity to know Coach Orr but as of today, I can honestly say that my answer to that question is yes without much question at all.

Do you remember those, “I chose Iowa State ads,” that the athletic department ran a back in the mid-2000’s?

To my knowledge, Johnny Orr was really the first man to choose Iowa State. He loved Iowa State. He retired at Iowa State. During his career, Orr created the greatest tradition that this school has to offer, Hilton Magic. For that, we all say, "Thank you, Coach."