Former MSU Basketball Coach Gus Ganakas Dies
(Courtesy MSU Athletics) Former Michigan State men’s basketball head coach Gus Ganakas, who coached the Spartans from 1969-76 and was part of the athletics department from 1964 until his retirement in 2000, passed away on Friday, Jan. 11. He was 92 (1926-2019).
Statement From Head Coach Tom Izzo
“Spartan Basketball has lost a dear friend today. Gus was one of the most selfless and positive people that I’ve ever been around. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Ganakas family as they grieve their loss.
“You’ll learn all you need to about Gus when you look at the way he handled being replaced as head coach. Most of us would have wanted our replacement to fail, hoping it would make us look good. But that wasn’t who Gus was. Instead, he made sure that the local high school superstar Earvin Johnson knew that Michigan State was still the right place for him to attend and that new coach Jud Heathcote was the right guy to play for. As they say, the rest is history. But there is no doubt that Spartan Basketball wouldn’t be what it is today without Gus Ganakas.
“Gus would go on to play a major role in any coaching success that I’ve enjoyed. Early on, he was on my staff and provided a great sounding board for a first time head coach. Throughout most of my career he also served as the analyst on our radio broadcasts, where he could always find the good in our performances, and tried his best to cheer me up despite how upset I might be.
“But most importantly, Gus has helped build the family atmosphere within Michigan State basketball. The connection between our past and our present is the best of any program in the nation because of Gus. Former Spartans from all eras feel connected to the current team, and much of that credit goes to Gus.
“We will all miss Gus … his smile and his sense of humor. He’s been a bright light to my entire family, from both my parents to my wife Lupe and children Raquel and Steven. But his impact on the entire Spartan family will continue to live on. And if there are ever tough times in heaven, they now have the perfect guy to make everyone feel just a little bit better.”
Ganakas attended Michigan State University from 1946-50 and returned to campus in September of 1964 to serve as the coordinator for the Ralph Young Fund, known today as the Spartan Fund.
Ganakas then became an assistant men’s basketball coach in 1966 before taking over as the head coach three years later. He led the team an overall record of 89-84 in seven years as head coach, posting a winning record in each of his last five seasons. His most successful seasons were in 1973-74 with a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten, and in 1974-75, when the Spartans posted a 17-9 overall record, the second-highest victory total at the time.
His coaching career came to an end in 1976, but he continued to be a part of the Michigan State Athletics Department, serving as an assistant athletics director from 1976-98 and then as an aide to current Head Coach Tom Izzo from 1998-2000. Ganakas was also responsible for organizing the 1989 MSU Basketball Centennial Celebration.
For more than 30 years, Ganakas could be heard as one of the voices of Michigan State men’s basketball, serving as a color commentator.
"For 20 seasons we were broadcast partners - a partnership that would turn into one of the greatest friendships of my life,” said Will Tieman, play-by-play announcer from 1992-96 and since 2002. “You couldn't help but love Gus. He was truly one of the greats of the greatest generation"
Ganakas was the 2016 award recipient of the Eldon VanSpybrook Retired Coaches Award, an award that is presented annually to the MSU coach whose coaching career has brought great honor personally, and by reflection, to MSU and its intercollegiate athletic program. In 2002, Ganakas became the sixth recipient of the Men’s Basketball Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2017, the Michigan State Most Valuable Player award as voted on by the players was named in his honor.
A native of Mount Morris, N.Y., Ganakas earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Michigan State in 1949 and a master’s degree in the same field in 1950. He came to Michigan State after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, including seeing action in the Battle of Okinawa.