Controversial, Fiery Musselman Dead at 59

From Staff and Wire Reports

Bill Musselman, who had a turbulent stay at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s and became the first coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, died Friday at 59.

The cause of death was heart and kidney failure, a Mayo Clinic spokesman said. Musselman died at the clinic’s St. Marys Hospital.

Musselman, most recently an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers, said last month he had bone marrow cancer. He had a stroke Oct. 28 and had been hospitalized off and on since. The Mayo Clinic said he had primary systemic amyloidosis, a rare disease with symptoms similar to bone marrow cancer.


Musselman, fiery, intense and always jumping from his sideline seat, was a basketball vagabond, coaching at all levels of the game. He held 14 head-coaching jobs over 35 years and had been an assistant with the Trail Blazers since 1997.

He became coach of the Timberwolves in 1989 and was with them two seasons. He also coached the Cleveland Cavaliers for two seasons and had a 78-180 record in the NBA. He had a 233-84 as a college coach at Ashland (Ohio), Minnesota and South Alabama.

While at the University of Minnesota, Musselman posted a slogan in the locker room telling players that defeat was worse than death because you have to live with defeat.

Musselman’s Minnesota teams were noted for being physical, intimidating--and sometimes going over the line. In 1972, a brawl erupted late in the Minnesota-Ohio State game on the Golden Gophers’ home court, with three players going to the hospital. Ohio State center Luke Witte, who was fouled hard driving to the basket and knocked to the floor, was punched repeatedly in the head and kneed by Minnesota’s Corky Taylor and stomped on the head by reserve Ron Behagen. As Witte was carried off in a stretcher, he was booed by Minnesota fans.

Musselman had the highest winning percentage (.683 with a 69-32 record) in his four seasons (1971-75) at Minnesota. However, the basketball program incurred more than 100 NCAA rule violations in that time that resulted in stiff sanctions after he left. Musselman was named in nearly half of the violations.