Musselman Selected To Coach Timberwolves

Aug. 23, 1988 — Bill Musselman, coach of the last four championship teams in the Continental Basketball Association, was today named head coach of the NBA expansion Minnesota Timberwolves. Musselman, 48, signed a four-year contract with the Timberwolves, who begin play in the 1989-90 season.

Musselman returns to familiar surroundings in Minnesota, where he coached the University of Minnesota to the Big Ten Conference championship 16 years ago. He joins Billy McKinney, hired last month as Director of Player Personnel, in the Timberwolves basketball operations department.

Musselman has been a head coach on all levels — high school, small college, major college and professional — and is the only man to have coached in four professional leagues (NBA, CBA and the defunct American Basketball Association and Western Basketball Association). He has a lifetime coaching record (including postseason) of 485-265 (.647). His professional record is 273-198 (.580), which includes an NBA mark of 27-67 (.287) from 1980-82 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He entered the CBA in 1983 and in five seasons became the league's all-time leader in regular-season winning percentage (157-60, .724) and postseason victories (46-16, .742). After a brief stop with the Sarasota Stingers in 1983-84, Musselman moved on to coach the expansion Tampa Bay/Rapid City Thrillers to three consecutive titles. Last season, he coached the Albany Patroons to a 48-6 regular-season mark, the top winning percentage in pro basketball history (.889), and the CBA title. He won 91 of his last 105 games in the CBA with frequently changing rosters, which included a mix of untested young players along with past and future NBA performers.

Named the CBA Coach of the Year each of the last two seasons, Musselman has posted the best winning percentage in pro basketball over the last four years (including postseason) at .758 (197-63), ahead of Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley (304-99, .754). By winning four consecutive championships, Musselman becomes only the second coach in the history of professional basketball to win that many in a row — Red Auerbach led the Boston Celtics to eight consecutive NBA titles from 1959-1966.

Musselman provided the University of Minnesota with its most exciting basketball memories from 1971-75 as the Gophers went 69-32 in those four seasons, including the 1972 Big Ten title, the school's first outright conference championship in 53 years. After finishing third in the NCAA Mideast Regional that year, the 1972-73 Gophers won a then school-record 21 games under Musselman (21-5), finishing second in the Big Ten and earning a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. Musselman's .683 winning percentage at Minnesota is the best in school history.

His Minnesota teams were known not only for outstanding basketball, but for being the most colorful team in the nation, complete with a dazzling pregame show which packed the Gophers' home court (Williams Arena) 45 minutes prior to game time.

Musselman left Minnesota in the summer of 1975 to accept the head coaching position with the San Diego Sails of the ABA. That franchise disbanded after just 11 games, and Musselman later that season was hired by the Virginia Squires, where he coached 26 games before being dismissed. He took two years away from coaching to work in real estate before returning in 1978-79 to coach the Reno Bighorns of the WBA, going 28-20 before being eliminated in the championship series.

The Cavaliers' coaching tenure came in two periods: Musselman was hired to coach the then-struggling franchise in 1980-81 and did so for 71 games (25-46) before becoming a club vice president in charge of player personnel. Late in the 1981-82 season, Musselman returned to the bench, replacing Chuck Daly as head coach as the Cavs won just two of the final 23 games. Musselman resigned as head coach prior to the 1982-83 season but remained a scout in the organization until beginning his CBA career. While coaching the Cavs, he was instrumental in the early development of two current NBA stars with the Detroit Pistons, Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards.

Musselman's 20 seasons as a head coach began in 1963-64 with Kent State (Ohio) High School. From there he moved on to Ashland (Ohio) College, where he spent six seasons building one of the top small college programs in the nation. During that time, he posted a 129-30 (.811) record with five of his teams ranked in the top 10. His 1967-68 and 1968-69 teams finished fourth in the NCAA small college tournament, with the latter team ranked No. 1 by both the Associated Press and United Press International at the end of the regular season.

While at Ashland, Musselman became known as a master at coaching defense. His 1968-69 team allowed an NCAA-record-low 33.9 points per game. His teams have left their defensive marks on other levels as well: Minnesota's 1972 Big Ten title team led the nation by allowing only 58 points per game; Albany set a CBA record last season by holding opponents to 97.5 points per contest.

Musselman's overall coaching ability was never more evident than during the last four years in the CBA. He built the expansion Tampa Bay/Rapid City franchise from scratch and led it to three consecutive titles. At Albany, Musselman retained just one player from the previous year's squad and saw the Patroons set 18 CBA records, including the best start in league history (36-4). During his CBA tenure, Musselman had to keep making key coaching moves, as 22 of his players elevated to the NBA during the last four seasons. Last season at Albany, four starters were taken from the Patroons' roster in mid-to-late season: Michael Brooks to Denver, Scott Roth to Utah, Rick Carlisle to New York, and last year's CBA Player of the Year, Tony Campbell, who was signed by the Los Angeles Lakers just prior to postseason play. Each time Musselman made the coaching adjustments necessary to maintain the team's success.

His teams have not only been successful, but immensely popular with fans:
  • At Ashland, the small college team obtained national attention, saw enrollment increase from 1,200 to 2,900 during Musselman's six years there, and overflow crowds prompted the construction of a new fieldhouse on campus

  • At Minnesota, the successful teams and excitement surrounding home games (Musselman's home record was 41-8) brought record crowds to Williams Arena during the Musselman era, including a school-record average of 17,863 fans per game in 1972-73

  • The Armory in Albany was sold out for every game in 1987-88, helping the CBA to a record-setting year in attendance

Musselman grew up in Ohio, where he was an all-around athlete and captain in three sports (basketball, football, baseball) at Wooster High School. He also lettered in those sports at Wittenberg (Ohio) University. He went on to Kent State University, where he earned a master's degree and served as a graduate assistant coach in football and volunteer assistant in basketball.