Rudy Marisa, who played on Penn State men’s basketball’s only Final Four team and became a coaching legend at Waynesburg College (now University), died Tuesday night at 89.
Our Program is extremely saddened by the loss of Coach Marisa. Have heard from so many alumni today sharing stories of Coach and how he helped shape their lives. An extraordinary person, career and life.
Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
— Waynesburg Basketball (@WaynesburgMBB) May 4, 2023
Marisa was the son of an Austrian coal miner, also named Rudy. Rudy Sr. immigrated to the United States in the late 1910s and worked in the coal mines for 48 years.
Rudy Sr. didn’t have time to attend his son’s games, but he and his wife, Lilly, instilled values in Rudy Jr. that he carried with him throughout his life.
” You don’t cheat people,” Rudy Jr. told me for the Washington, PA, Observer-Reporter, in November 2019. “You do your best. You work hard, even if it meant going down in the hole in a coal mine and working like a slave for almost no money.”
These values helped Rudy Jr. become an important part of Penn State’s Final Four team and helped him to become an icon at Waynesburg University.
Marisa arrived at Penn State in 1952 and tried out for the basketball team. As he remembered it, 150 students tried out, and less than a handful made it.
Marisa became one of the few who made the cut and reaped the rewards of being on Penn State’s lone Final Four.
Today, Rudy’s granddaughter, Makenna, is the best player on Penn State’s women’s basketball team.
She’s scored nearly 1,800 points in four seasons, good for seventh on the school’s all-time list.
When Makenna Marisa was a freshman at Penn State, she told the OR about her grandfather’s impact on those he knew.
“So many people have come up to me and told me how much my grandfather has impacted their lives,” Makenna Marisa told the Observer-Reporter in early 2020. “I know there was one guy who named his kid after my grandpa. So it’s pretty cool to hear those stories.”
After Penn State, Rudy Marisa got into coaching.
He started his career at Dunbar Township High School in 1958 and stayed there until 1960. From there, Marisa coached at Albert Gallatin from 1960-66.
After two seasons away from coaching and another as an assistant at Trinity High School in Washington, Marisa got the head coaching job at Waynesburg.
Before Marisa came to Waynesburg, the program was a perennial loser and never had a winning season between 1951 and 1969.
Marisa gradually built the program back to prominence in the 1970s, and by the late ’70s, the program was ready to take off. It did, averaging 23.5 wins per season starting in 1978-79. The best part of that stretch occurred in the 1987-88 campaign, when Waynesburg finished 32-3, won 32 straight games and made it to the NAIA Final Four.
Marisa retired from coaching before the 2003-04 season and ended his career with 565 wins, 17th among all active NCAA coaches and in the Division III top 10 at the time of his retirement.
Waynesburg named its basketball gym the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse in 2000.
Tim McConnell played for some of Marisa’s best teams in the 1980s. Starting in the 1990s, he became one of the best high school basketball coaches in western Pennsylvania history, winning titles at the boys’ and girls’ level for Chartiers Valley.
He feels Marisa influenced him in his future profession.
“I absolutely thrived on the way he coached me and the things that he expected out of me as the leader he wanted me to be,” McConnell told the Observer-Reporter in early 2020. “It’s helped me in my coaching career to play under him and learn under him.”
Marsia’s players weren’t always fond of him.
“I respected him,” Darrin Walls, who played on Waynesburg’s Final Four team and is still the school’s all-time leading scorer, told the Observer-Reporter “I didn’t always like him. I didn’t always agree with his tactics.”
An example of Marisa’s tactics— which Walls and his teammates still take about more than 30 years later— is when Marisa ran five miles in front of his team on a hot day during preseason camp.
He heard from an assistant that, on a day his players were scheduled to have the long run, they were unhappy about the shoes they had the wear.
So Marisa started the run in dress shoes, and about halfway through, he didn’t feel like his point was coming across and completed the run barefoot.
Marisa also was a heavy believer in showing up for work on time.
” If we had a meeting at 12,” Harold Hamlin, a star on the ’88 Final Four team, told me when in March 2019 when I wrote for the Waynesburg University student newspaper, the Yellow Jacket, “you better be there at 11:45. Not 12. Not 11:55. He didn’t want anybody walking in when he was about the start his meeting. Because sometimes he would start early, and if you weren’t there, there’s a good chance you were getting cut.”
As of late-2019, Walls, who had been working at UPMC for 17 years, had only been late to work once.
He credits Marisa for that.
” I love that man to death,” he told the Observer-Reporter.
Marisa is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jackie, as well as sons Kurt, Kent, Kameron and Kerry, and daughter Autumn. Marisa also has 14 surviving grandchildren; Kason Marisa, Kelson Marisa, Morgan Marisa, Makenna Marisa, Kylie Marisa, Carter Marisa, Nicholas Marisa, Samantha Marisa, Lily Lexer, Luke Lexer, Katherine Lexer, Kolt Lexer, Chase and Gianna Marisa.