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Bill Musselman

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Bill Musselman

Bill Musselman
Sport(s) Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1940-09-13)September 13, 1940
Wooster, Ohio
Died May 5, 2000(2000-05-05) (aged 59)
Rochester, Minnesota
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
* San Diego Sails, 1974-1975 (ABA)
* Virginia Squires, 1975-1976 (ABA)
* Cleveland Cavaliers 1980-1982 (NBA)
* Minnesota Timberwolves, 1989-1991 (NBA)
* Reno Bighorns, 1978-1979 (WBA)
* Sarasota Stingers, 1983-1985 (CBA)
* Tampa Bay Thrillers 1984-1985 (CBA)
* Albany Patroons, 1985-1988 (CBA)
Head coaching record
Overall College totals: 170-52, .766 pct. (NCAA)
Pro record totals: 385-334, .535 pct.
NBA record: 78-180, .302 pct.
ABA record: 12-30 .286 pct.
CBA record: 267-114, .701 pct.
WBA record: 28-20, .583 pct.
Accomplishments and honors
* 4x CBA Champions as coach of Tampa Bay Thrillers (1984-85) and Albany Patroons (1985-86, 1986-87, 1987-88)
* CBA Coach of the year, 1987-88

William Clifford "Bill" Musselman (August 13, 1940 – May 5, 2000) was an American basketball coach in the NCAA, the ABA, the WBA, the CBA and the NBA. He was a fiercely intense coach who once was quoted as saying, "Defeat is worse than death because you have to live with defeat."

Early life

Musselman was the second of five children. His father was an auto mechanic. He had a loving and dedicated mother named Bertha who later married James Miller. James became Bill's father and was a big part of his life growing up. The young Musselman played basketball, football, and baseball at Wooster High School in Wooster, Ohio. When he graduated in 1958, he was the school's second all-time leading scorer. After high school, he attended Wittenberg College (now Wittenberg University) in Springfield, Ohio, where he played basketball for Ray Mears, who would later coach the University of Tennessee.


Kent State University High School

In 1963, at the age of 23, Musselman was hired as the head men's basketball coach at Kent State University High School in Kent, Ohio. In Musselman's first season of coaching, the KSUHS Statesmen finished 14-5 and earned a share of the conference title.

Ashland University (NCAA)

In 1964, after one season of coaching high school basketball, Musselman was hired to assist with the football and basketball teams at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. In August 1965, Ashland's head basketball coach left for another coaching position. With only a few months before the start of the 1965-66 season, Musselman was promoted to head coach. In his first season, at the age of 25, he guided the Eagles to a 10-10 record. Over the next five seasons, Musselman's Ashland teams went 21-3, 24-6, 26-4, 23-4, and 25-3 (total: 109-20, with a .845 winning percentage).

While at Ashland, Musselman's teams reached the NCAA College Division Tournament (the predecessor to the current Division II and Division III Tournaments) four times and had 13 All-America players. His 1968-69 Ashland team allowed an NCAA-record-low 33.9 points per game.

University of Minnesota (NCAA)

Following the 1970-71 season, Musselman left Ashland for the University of Minnesota.

In 1971-72, he led the Gophers to an 18-7 record and their first Big Ten Championship in 53 years with a roster featuring Dave Winfield, Jim Brewer, Bobby Nix, Keith Young, Clyde Turner, Corky Taylor, and Ron Behagen. The Gophers lost to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 70-56, before rebounding in the Midwest Region Consolation Round, downing Marquette, 77-72.

The following season (1972–73), Musselman guided the Gophers to a 21-5 mark. Minnesota began the season ranked fourth in the nation and ranked as high as No. 3 in the country in March 1973. In the 1973 NIT postseason tournament, Musselman's Minnesota team downed Rutgers, 68-59, in the first round before losing to Alabama 69-65 in the quarterfinals.

During the 1973-74 campaign, without Brewer, Behagen, or Turner, the Gophers dropped to 12-12 under Musselman. His starting lineup that season featured Flip Saunders, who would go on to have a successful NBA coaching career.

In his fourth and final season at Minnesota, Musselman's team went 18-8 and included a roster of future NBA players Mychal Thompson, Mark Landsberger, and Mark Olberding. His overall coaching record at Minnesota is 61-32 with a .656 winning percentage.

Musselman's tenure at Minnesota was tainted after an incident during the 1971-72 season when Taylor and Behagen assaulted Ohio State University center Luke Witte. The attack on Witte came near the end of the Gophers-Buckeyes game. Witte was seriously injured, taken off the court on a stretcher and hospitalized with injuries, including to an eye, that negatively impacted his basketball career. Two other Ohio State players were also hospitalized as a result of the brawl.[1]

Musselman maintained that he had nothing to do with the incident. Still, critics claimed he had stirred his players into a frenzy before the game that night and encouraged overly aggressive play. A September 1, 1985, article in The New York Times described Musselman's Gophers as "an extremely physical basketball team."

During Musselman's time at the University of Minnesota, home attendance increased from 4,000 per game to nearly 18,000 per game, according to The New York Times.

After Musselman left to coach in the American Basketball Association (ABA), the NCAA placed the Gophers on probation after discovering more than 100 rule violations.

San Diego Sails (ABA)

On July 28, 1975, Musselman left the college ranks to join the pro game when he was hired to coach the San Diego Sails of the American Basketball Association. The team only lasted for 11 games of the 1975-76 season before folding with a 3-8 record.

According to the book Obsession, by Bill Heller, Musselman signed a three-year contract worth more than $135,000, considerably more than the $23,000 salary he had received at the University of Minnesota.

Virginia Squires (ABA)

A week after the ABA's San Diego franchise folded on November 11, 1975, Musselman was hired to coach the league's Virginia Squires. Musselman took over for player-coach Mack Calvin, who had gone 0-6 since taking over for Al Bianchi. During one game, Musselman played his starters the entire 48 minutes, according to The New York Times.

Musselman went 4-22 with the Squires before he was replaced by Jack Ankerson on January 21, 1976. Ankerson, who would go on to serve as general manager of the San Antonio Spurs, went 1-1 as coach of the Squires before being replaced by Zelmo Beaty, who compiled a 9-33 record. The Squires went 15-68 on the season and disbanded on May 10, 1976.

In the book Obsession, by Bill Heller, Musselman said, "I found the players [in Virginia] were talking more about the [team's] financial troubles than basketball. They worried more about the next payroll than they did about the next practice. It was difficult for them to concentrate on basketball."

Reno (Nevada) Bighorns (WBA)

Musselman coached the Reno Bighorns of the Western Basketball Association in 1978-79, leading the club to a 28-20 record and the only WBA title game. Led by Randy Ayers and Gus Bailey, Reno lost to Herb Brown's Tucson Gunners, four games to three, in the 1979 championship. The league folded soon after.

Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)

Ted Stepien, then owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, hired Musselman for his first NBA head coaching job in 1980. Musselman guided the team to a 25-46 mark before he was replaced by general manager Don Delaney, who went 3-8 to close out the 1980-81 season.

On March 8, 1982, Stepien fired Chuck Daly, who was 9-32 as coach of the Cavs, and replaced him on an interim basis with Musselman, then the team's director of player personnel. The Cavs went 2-21 under Musselman, who finished the season as head coach, his second stint at the helm. Musselman resigned on October 21, 1982, just a few days before the start of the 1982-83 NBA season.

In an April 17, 1994 New York Times article, former NBA center Cedric Maxwell said the Cavs' veteran players during that time "were known more for partying than for playing."

Sarasota (Fla.) Stingers (CBA)

Musselman's foray into minor league basketball began in 1983 when he was hired to coach the Sarasota (Fla.) Stingers of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). Just 19 games into the season, sporting a 6-13 record, Musselman was fired. The team fared no better after Musselman's firing, finishing the season with a 16-28 record.

Tampa Bay/Rapid City Thrillers (CBA)

The following season, Musselman moved a few miles up the Florida Gulf Coast to St. Petersburg where he was hired to coach the expansion Tampa Bay Thrillers of the CBA. There, over the next three seasons, Musselman would build one of the winningest franchises in sports history.

As an expansion team, his 1984-85 Thrillers team rolled to a 45-18 record to win the CBA title, downing the Detroit Spirits in seven games. Tampa Bay repeated as CBA champions the following season going 46-19 and defeating the LaCrosse (Wisc.) Catbirds in five games, 4-1.

The "three-peat" followed in 1986-87 in Rapid City, South Dakota, where the team had moved at the conclusion of the regular season. The Thrillers, who went 46-16 overall, lost the first game of the finals to the Rockford (Ill.) Lightning, before winning four consecutive games as Musselman won his third consecutive CBA championship. For his efforts, Musselman was honored as CBA Coach of the Year.

Among the players starring for Musselman's Thriller teams were Sidney Lowe, Clinton Wheeler, Rod Higgins, Freeman Williams, Sam Mitchell, Ed Nealy, Steve Hayes, Brian Martin, Eddie Johnson, Don Collins, Ron Valentine, Perry Moss, Kevin Williams, and Charles Jones.

Albany Patroons (CBA)

On June 19, 1987, Musselman jumped to the Albany (NY) Patroons for the 1987-88 CBA season, guiding the Pats to a remarkable 48-6 record and his fourth consecutive league title. Albany's roster featured Tony Campbell, Michael Brooks, Sidney Lowe, Michael Ray Richardson, Scott Roth, Reid Gettys, Tod Murphy, Eric Fernsten, Derrick Rowland, Scott Brooks, and Lowes Moore.

Musselman was named CBA Coach of the Year for the second time following the 1987-88 season.

Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA)

Following his success in the CBA, on August 23, 1988, Musselman was hired as the head coach of the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves. With a roster "full of vagabonds, long shots and characters," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Musselman's Wolves posted a 22-60 record in 1989-90, their first season, and 29-53 the following season. Musselman was fired on April 22, 1991, a day after the 1990-91 season ended. But the 29 wins under Musselman were a high-water mark for the T-wolves, who failed to top 29 wins until 1996-97. Musselman's expansion team won more games than any of the four expansion teams and more in his second season (29) than any expansion team since the 1974-75 New Orleans Jazz.

In a March 29, 2007, Minneapolis Star Tribune article by Steve Aschburner, Pooh Richardson, a member of the expansion Timberwolves, said: "We were the best expansion team out there. That was as good as going to the playoffs. That's one thing that Musselman always gave us: a chance to win. Pass the ball, pass the ball, cut down the shots for the other team." Musselman highlighted his style of doggedly exploiting the other team's weaknesses when on a February 4, 1989 game against the Golden State Warriors, he called the same play all game in an attempt to get coach Don Nelson to double-team journeyman big man Randy Breuer in his matchup against lighter defenders Manute Bol and Jim Petersen in order to free up guards Pooh Richardson and Tony Campbell.[2] Although the Wolves lost the game 106-96, it resulted in Breuer scoring a career high 40 points.[3]

Rochester (Minn.) Renegade (CBA)

On July 22, 1993, Musselman returned to the CBA for the 1993-94 season, this time in an attempt to revive the Rochester Renegade, a struggling franchise that had gone 6-50 the previous season. Rochester finished 31-25 under Musselman, a 25-win improvement. Musselman's roster included Rodney Monroe, Ronnie Grandison, Clinton Wheeler, Dave Jamerson, Brook Steppe, Tod Murphy, and Ralph McPherson.

The team folded following the season.

University of South Alabama (NCAA)

In March 1995, Musselman returned to the NCAA after a 25-year absence with the University of South Alabama. In two seasons, he led the Jaguars to the 1997 NCAA tournament after turning the program around from a 9-18 record. Musselman's 1997 South Alabama team went 23-7 and nearly upset eventual champion Arizona in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Musselman resigned as coach of the Jags on October 7, 1997, to return to the NBA. The following season, a South Alabama team made up mainly of Musselman recruits also advanced to the NCAA Tournament first round and lost to Illinois under then-head coach Bob Weltlich.

Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)

On October 8, 1997, after two successful seasons as head coach at the University of South Alabama, Musselman returned to the NBA as an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers, under Mike Dunleavy Sr. This marked the first time in his career that he served as an assistant coach. Musselman served as an assistant for three seasons with the Blazers before his death in May 2000.


Passion for the game

While coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Musselman, whom The New York Times once described as "hot tempered," was criticized for his "disciplinary tactics," according to the Times. During his stint as coach of the ABA's Virginia Squires, Musselman "antagonized so-called problem players...and docile ones," according to a January 3, 1981, article in the New York Times. Musselman claimed "the only time I yell is before a game and at halftime," explaining that his passion helps players give "maximum effort every second."

NBA coach Flip Saunders was quoted in the St. Paul Pioneer Press the day after Musselman died. Of Musselman, Saunders said, "In anything he did, he had great passion."

In Charley Walters' December 23, 2012, column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is quoted as saying, "One of the things I've taken from [Bill Musselman] is doing it every day, being consistent and never changing -- always stick with what you do. He was a creature of habit. He drove the same way to get to practice, the same way to get to the airport. Our practices were so consistent. I wouldn't be in my position today if he hadn't taken me on as a CBA player. He taught me the ropes, how to play with toughness. There were no excuses with him -- you had to play hard every night."

Sense of fairness

According to former CBA coach Charley Rosen, Musselman possessed an "admirable sense of fairness." In an article,[4] Rosen describes a scene after a game between Rosen's CBA team and Musselman's Tampa Bay club:

"We were involved in a tight game at Tampa Bay. Late in the fourth quarter, one of the refs called three charging fouls on my best player, Cedric Henderson, and the Thrillers eventually won on a buzzer-beating shot by the late 'Fast' Eddie Jordan. Instead of celebrating his victory, Bill followed the refs off the court to their locker room, screaming that they had 'screwed Charley out of the win.' He continued to kick and pound his fists on the closed locker room door, raging for another 10 minutes. 'If I can't win a game fairly, then I'd rather lose.'"

Describing Musselman's personality

In the newspaper articles and columns following his death, Musselman was described as "volatile," "colorful," "intense," and "fiery." Sidney Lowe, who played for Musselman in the CBA and NBA, said his former coach was "very demanding... but he was an excellent coach."

In an Associated Press story that day after Musselman died, Greg Anthony, a guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, described Musselman as "a great, great man."

In a May 8, 2000, letter to the editor of The Minnesota Daily, the newspaper of the University of Minnesota, Dr. R. Galen Hanson wrote, "By far – far and away – the memories I will always have of coach Bill Musselman is that he is one of the most unforgettable people I have ever met: winner, writer, teacher, coach. Always."

Coaching Legacy

A number of Musselman's former assistant coaches and players went on to coach in the NBA, including Sidney Lowe (Minnesota Timberwolves), Tyrone Corbin (Utah Jazz), Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls), Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder), Sam Mitchell (Toronto Raptors), and his son Eric Musselman (Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors).

Other coaches who played for Musselman include Flip Saunders, Scott Roth, Michael Ray Richardson, and Tod Murphy (Gordon College)


Musselman suffered a stroke on October 30, 1999, following Portland's preseason game against the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The cause of death was heart and kidney failure.

The Trail Blazers used Musselman as an inspiration for their 2000 playoff run, which ended in the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. In the team's 2000-01 media guide, which was dedicated to Musselman, he was described as "a keen strategist and an inspiring motivator."


Musselman has three children: two sons and a daughter. His oldest son, Eric Musselman, is the former head coach of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. They are the first father and son to hold the title of NBA head coach.


  1. ^ William F. Reed, "An Ugly Affair in Minneapolis", Sports Illustrated, February 7, 1972
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Charley Rosen, "NBA lessons learned in CBA", Page 2, February 18, 2003

External links

  • Bill Musselman (as coach)
Preceded by
Beryl Shipley
San Diego Sails Head Coach
Succeeded by
N/A - team folded
Preceded by
Mack Calvin
Virginia Squires Head Coach
Succeeded by
Jack Ankerson
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