Rollie Massimino, a roly-poly, energetic college basketball coach who engineered one of his sport’s greatest upsets, when his Villanova Wildcats played “the perfect game” to defeat Georgetown for the 1985 men’s NCAA championship, died Aug. 30 at his home in Jupiter, Fla. He was 82.
His death was announced by Keiser University of West Palm Beach, Fla., where Mr. Massimino was head men’s basketball coach. He had lung cancer and had been treated in recent years for a brain tumor and other ailments.
Mr. Massimino, who won more than 800 games during his 41 seasons as a college coach, is best known for the 19 years he spent at Villanova, outside Philadelphia. Beginning in 1980, Villanova was a rival of Georgetown, St. John’s, Connecticut, Syracuse and other schools in the rugged Big East Conference.
Throughout his career, Mr. Massimino cultivated a family-style approach to coaching, often inviting his players to his home for pasta dinners. After their 6 a.m. preseason practices, his players returned to the locker room for doughnuts and milk, fostering a camaraderie that made for exceptionally close-knit teams.
“His family atmosphere was absolutely key,” Harold Pressley, who played on the 1985 championship team, told Sports Illustrated, describing how he was recruited by Mr. Massimino. “He came in, lounged around with my mother, seemed real comfortable. It worked. It was believable. And it was real.”
Mr. Massimino led Villanova to the NCAA tournament nine times during an 11-year period and often said his best teams were the ones he coached in 1982 and 1983, when Villanova won the Big East regular-season title.
Those teams, however, were ousted in the NCAA tourney. The only time he reached the Final Four came with the 1984-85 team that defied all odds.
That season, Villanova finished the season with an unremarkable 19-10 record and entered the NCAA tournament as a mid-level No. 8 seed in the Southeast region. It was the last NCAA tournament to be played without a shot clock, and it came before college basketball used the long-range three-point shot.
Mr. Massimino used a deliberately paced offense and a baffling array of zone defenses designed to throw more physically imposing teams off stride.
In the opening game of the 1985 tournament, Villanova faced the University of Dayton on Dayton’s home court. Backup shooting star Harold Jensen drove to the basket late in the game to win the game for the Wildcats, 51-49.
Next, Villanova dispatched No. 1 seed Michigan, 59-55, then topped Maryland, 49-46. To reach the Final Four, the Wildcats had to beat perennial power North Carolina. At halftime, Villanova trailed UNC, 22-17.
“I don’t need this,” Mr. Massimino shouted to his players in the locker room. “You know what I’d like right now? A big bowl of spags, with clam sauce.”
With the tension broken, he then told his team, “Hey, guys. Just go out and play.”
Villanova won easily, 56-44, to advance to the Final Four in Lexington, Ky. Three of the teams in the Final Four that year were from the Big East: Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s.
The fourth was Villanova’s opponent, Memphis State. The Wildcats’ slow-paced style wore down Memphis State, 52-45, and set up a final matchup between the Wildcats and Georgetown.
The intimidating Hoyas, led by 7-foot all-American Patrick Ewing (now Georgetown’s head coach) were the defending national champions and entered the game with a record of 35-2. They were overwhelming favorites.
Georgetown’s coach, the imposing 6-foot-10 John Thompson, was more than a foot taller than his pudgy, animated counterpart. Villanova had lost twice to Georgetown earlier in the season, but for the final game Mr. Massimino sought to inspire his underdog team through psychology.
“Go back to your rooms,” he told his players hours before the tipoff. “Close your eyes and picture yourself playing this game to win. Don’t play this game not to lose. Play it to win. Believe you can win.”
Villanova committed 17 turnovers in the game but otherwise played what Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden called “the perfect game on the biggest stage against an unbeatable opponent.”
Mr. Massimino and his assistant coaches adopted a shifting defensive scheme that confused the Hoyas. Late in the first half, Villanova held the ball for almost two minutes, before taking a 29-28 halftime lead. In the second half, Villanova could do almost nothing wrong.
With 2:47 remaining in the game, Georgetown held a 54-53 lead when Jensen sank an 18-foot jump shot to give Villanova the lead. The Wildcats later intercepted a Georgetown pass and held on to win, 66-64.
The Wildcats attempted 10 shots in the second half and made nine of them. Their shooting percentage for the game was an astonishing 78.6 percent.
It was Mr. Massimino’s greatest moment as a coach. Villanova, with its No. 8 seeding, remains the lowest-seeded team to win the NCAA tournament.
“We played as hard as we could,” Thompson told The Washington Post after the game. “We’re disappointed, sure. We feel bad about losing. If I had to lose to somebody, I take some consolation that it’s Rollie Massimino.”
Roland Vincent Massimino was born Nov. 13, 1934, and grew up in Hillside, N.J. His father, an Italian immigrant, was a shoemaker.
Mr. Massimino played basketball at the University of Vermont, from which he graduated in 1956. He received a master’s degree in physical education from New Jersey’s Rutgers University in 1959.
After coaching in high schools, Mr. Massimino became the head coach at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1969. He was an assistant under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly at the University of Pennsylvania before going to Villanova in 1973.
Mr. Massimino left Villanova in 1992 to take over the troubled basketball program at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, after the dismissal of coach Jerry Tarkanian. But after two seasons, it was revealed that Mr. Massimino was collecting $375,000 in off-the-books payments, on top of his $511,000 salary. He took a settlement of $1.8 million to leave Las Vegas and later moved on to Cleveland State University, where his teams compiled mediocre records before he stepped away from coaching in 2003.
Mr. Massimino was seemingly retired in Florida when he was asked to start a basketball program at Northwood University, a school of fewer than 1,000 students, in West Palm Beach. In 11 seasons at Northwood (later renamed Keiser University), Mr. Massimino built a small-college powerhouse.
With a career record of 816-462, Mr. Massimino is one of 22 men’s basketball coaches with at least 800 wins at four-year colleges.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Mary Jane Massimino of Jupiter; five children; and 17 grandchildren.
Asked last year by Sports Illustrated why he continued to coach in his 80s, Mr. Massimino said, “I wouldn’t be coaching if I didn’t enjoy it. It keeps me young. I can yell, I can scream. I can still punch a little bit, you know what I mean?”