Rollie Massimino after wining the Southeast Regional in March of 1985. (Photo: Associated Press)

Rollie Massimino, the longtime Villanova basketball coach who led the Wildcats to an improbable national championship in 1985, has died. He was 82.

Massimino compiled a 355–241 record in 19 seasons at Villanova, but it was the Wildcats’ run 32 years ago that cemented his place in sports lore. Villanova advanced to the Final Four as a No. 8 seed in the first year the tournament expanded to 64 teams, winning the Southeast Regional over North Carolina after a fiery halftime speech from Massimino.

“Do you know what I’d really rather be doing now than anything?” Massimino told his team at halftime. “Than being here in this room? I’ll tell you. I’d rather be at home, sitting behind a big, steaming, heaping plate of spags [spaghetti]. Yeah, that’s right! Macaroni! Linguini with clam sauce! I’d rather be doing that than losing this damn game! Now get out there and do what got you here in the first place!”

Three Big East teams made the Final Four that season. Villanova turned away Memphis State in the semifinals, then beat a heavily-favored Georgetown team in the finals, 66-64. Villanova shot 78 percent from the field in the game, missing just six shots (and only one in the second half) in what’s widely considered to be one of the greatest sports upsets of all time.

Massimino later coached at UNLV and Cleveland State in the 1990s, and coached for the last 11 years at Keiser University (formerly Northwood), a Division II NAIA school in Florida. Yes, Massimino is also credited with briefly killing Philadelphia’s Big 5, but the teams play a round-robin again so it’s all good.

Advertisement

Massimino had been moved to hospice care earlier in the week. He had lung cancer.