[My very favorite sports hero is coach John Wooden. Mention of the coach was recently made by Mark Shepherd at our Authentic Masculinity Workshop: Winning At Work and At Home. Coach was held up as an example for us to follow at home and in our chosen profession. It was apparent that many of the “younger” guys were not familiar with Wooden’s exemplary record on the basketball court or as a model for life. For those interested in knowing more about Coach I’m posting three articles pubilshed in connection with his death. What the articles fail to mention is Coach’s very strong Christian faith. He was a devoted Christian and a member of a Christian Church. Following the third article is a link to a pdf file of Coach’s Pyramid of Success and 12 Lessons of Leadership. RMF]
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, winner of 10 national titles, dies at 99
By Matt Schudel
Friday, June 4, 2010
John Wooden, who led his UCLA basketball team to an unsurpassed record of 10 national championships in the 1960s and 1970s, and who is often regarded as the greatest coach in American sports history, died Friday. He was 99.
No cause of death was given for Mr. Wooden, who had been hospitalized for dehydration at UCLA Medical Center since May 26. The university, which announced his death, said only that he died of natural causes.
Mr. Wooden was a mild-mannered leader who molded an athletic dynasty at the University of California at Los Angeles by instilling a quiet discipline in his players, emphasizing group effort over individual heroics. His favorite part of coaching was leading the practice sessions in which he taught the fundamentals that were the foundation of his success.
He was called the “Wizard of Westwood,” after UCLA’s Los Angeles neighborhood, but never particularly liked his nickname. Year after year, with short teams or tall, with star players and scrappy unknowns, Mr. Wooden compiled a record of excellence that has never been equaled in a major college sport.
From 1964 to 1975, his teams won 10 national championships, including seven in a row. No other men’s basketball coach has won more than four. He led UCLA to four perfect seasons, each time with a record of 30-0. No other coach has had more than one undefeated season. From 1971 to 1974, his teams won 88 consecutive games, a record no one else has come close to breaking.
“He is the greatest coach in the history of sports, not just basketball but in any sport,” UCLA basketball Coach Ben Howland said in 2008, echoing the sentiments of dozens of other coaches and writers.
“Neither Knute Rockne, not John McGraw, not Connie Mack, nor Casey Stengel, nor Vince Lombardi, nor any other coach or manager has complied anything close to the record of Wooden’s teams,” sports journalist Arnold Hano wrote in the New York Times in 1973. “He is sport’s most enduring, most successful winner.”
Although remembered primarily as a coach, Mr. Wooden was an outstanding 5-foot-10 guard at Purdue University in his home state of Indiana and was named the national collegiate player of the year in 1932. He was the first person elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. The annual award given to the nation’s top college men’s and women’s players is named in his honor.
He coached many all-American players during his 27 years at UCLA, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known in college by his original name of Lew Alcindor), Bill Walton, Sidney Wicks and Keith Wilkes. But in keeping with his belief in team play over individual glory, Mr. Wooden refused to allow his star players’ uniform numbers to be retired.
“What about the fellows who wore that number before?” he asked. “Didn’t they contribute to the team?”
Mr. Wooden was soft-spoken but firm about his rules of behavior, which included no profanity and maintaining a neat appearance. In the early 1970s, Walton challenged Mr. Wooden’s authority by coming to practice with a beard and shaggy hair.
“That’s good, Bill,” Mr. Wooden responded. “I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. I really do. We’re going to miss you.”
Walton went to the locker room and shaved.
“When I left UCLA in 1974 and became the highest-paid player in the history of team sports at that time,” Walton later wrote in the UCLA alumni magazine, “the quality of my life went down. That’s how special it was to have played for John Wooden and UCLA.”
Mr. Wooden said he was more pleased by his players’ success later in life than on the basketball court. Almost all of his players graduated, and he pointed out that more than 30 became lawyers, and many others were teachers, doctors or ministers.
“That was his mission — to help young men do good things with their lives,” Abdul-Jabbar told the Sporting News in 2009.
‘I am a practice coach’
Mr. Wooden, who taught high school English for more than 10 years, often referred to his coaching as “teaching” and relied on homespun precepts learned during his hardscrabble youth in Indiana. His slogans often carried a deeper message: “Be quick, but don’t hurry”; “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”; “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
One thing he didn’t ask his players to do was win a game.
“The word ‘win’ never escaped his lips. Literally,” Doug McIntosh, a member of his first national championship team in 1964, told Sports Illustrated. “He just asked us to play to our potential.”
Practice sessions were the laboratory in which he refined his coaching science. He designed his practices around drills that would develop quickness, alertness and team spirit.
“I am not a strategy coach,” he said. “I am a practice coach.”
Each year, Mr. Wooden began his practices at UCLA by teaching his players the proper way to put on their socks and lace their shoes.
“It’s the little things that make the big things happen,” he said in 1996. “It’s putting your shoes on properly. It’s getting the wrinkles out of your socks so you won’t get blisters. Those are important things.”
He made psychology an element of his coaching, including his preference for a fast-break offense and a relentless zone press on defense. His goal was not just to force his opponents to make mistakes but, in Mr. Wooden’s words, to sow “disharmony and disunion”: “We want to keep constant pressure until we get to the emotions of the other team.”
Mr. Wooden formulated a “pyramid of success,” in which 15 qualities such as enthusiasm, loyalty, skill, confidence and poise form the foundation of excellence. In later years, he wrote books outlining his model for success and gave speeches to business leaders.
Over time, an aura of wisdom and Zenlike mastery developed around Mr. Wooden. Because he never drank or cursed, other coaches sometimes derisively called him “St. John,” while noting that he often hectored referees by shouting through a rolled-up program.
The only hint of scandal during Mr. Wooden’s tenure at UCLA revolved around an athletic booster named Sam Gilbert, who befriended players and reportedly paid some of them under the table. Mr. Wooden was cleared of any wrongdoing after an NCAA investigation.
Summarizing his philosophy of coaching to the Sporting News in 2009, Mr. Wooden said: “You have to be patient. Good things take time. . . . Basketball is not a complicated game, it’s a simple game. Get the players in good condition, and teach them how to keep balance — floor balance, physical balance, mental balance, moral balance. Very simple things.”
Mopping the gym floor
John Robert Wooden was born Oct. 14, 1910, in Hall, Ind., and settled with his family in the small town of Martinsville, Ind. His introduction to basketball came when his father, a farmer, nailed a bushel basket to the side of the barn.
He had an austere early life, with no electricity or indoor plumbing, but his father read the Bible and poetry to his four sons each night and instilled a deep sense of moral rectitude. All his life, Mr. Wooden carried in his wallet a set of principles drawn up by his father: “Be true to yourself, help others, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books, make each day your masterpiece, build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live, and give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance very day.”
In the 1920s, John Wooden led his high school basketball team to one state championship and two second-place finishes. He became known as the “Indiana Rubber Man” for his headlong style of play and was a three-time all-American at Purdue.
Mr. Wooden played professional basketball in the Midwest for several years while working as a high school English teacher and coach in Kentucky and Indiana. During World War II, he was a physical education instructor with the Navy and once underwent an emergency appendectomy, which kept him from reporting for duty on an aircraft carrier. The officer who took his place was killed in a Japanese kamikaze attack.
After the war, Mr. Wooden became the basketball coach at Indiana State University, where he acquired a master’s degree in education. He refused to go to a tournament in Kansas City, Mo., when he learned that a black player on his squad would not be allowed to take part.
Mr. Wooden went to UCLA in 1948, inheriting the worst team in the Pacific Coast Conference. In his inaugural season, he led the Bruins to the first of his 19 conference championships. Until a new arena was built in 1965, his teams practiced for 17 years at the “B.O. Barn,” an antiquated gymnasium shared with the wrestling and gymnastics teams. Mr. Wooden mopped the floor before practice every day.
At the beginning of the 1963-64 season, little was expected of his undersized team, which had finished 20-9 the previous year. But with Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard and Keith Erickson leading a lightning-strike attack, Mr. Wooden’s Bruins wore down one opponent after another, despite having no starter taller than 6-feet-5. In the national championship game, UCLA ran away from the Duke Blue Devils, easily winning its first NCAA title, 98-83.
“Coach Wooden’s words were always the same,” Goodrich, a star player on UCLA’s 1964 and 1965 championship teams, once said. ” ‘Don’t panic, keep your poise, the other guy will break.’ They did, too.”
Never lost a title game
After a second national championship in 1965, Mr. Wooden recruited the top high school player in the country, the 7-foot-2 Alcindor, who led UCLA to three straight championships from 1967 through 1969. UCLA won four more titles in the early 1970s, including two with the 6-foot-11 Walton at center.
In 1975, immediately after UCLA recorded a one-point victory in the NCAA Final Four semifinals over Louisville, Mr. Wooden told his players that the next game — the national championship– would be his last as coach. UCLA defeated Kentucky, 92-85, to give Mr. Wooden his 10th NCAA title.
He was named national coach of the year six times, and his 12 appearances in the Final Four are an NCAA record. His teams reached the national championship game 10 times and never lost.
“I don’t permit myself to be elated or depressed,” he said of his remarkable record of success. “All I ask is that the players give their best effort, and win or lose, they hold their heads up after the game.”
Besides winning 88 consecutive games from 1971 to 1974, Mr. Wooden’s teams also reeled off streaks of 47 and 41 straight victories. His career record was 885-203, and in his final 12 seasons at UCLA his team was 335-22.
“John was a better coach at 55 than he was at 50,” Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Newell said in 1989. “He was a better coach at 60 than at 55. He’s a true example of a man who learned from day one to day last.”
Mr. Wooden once turned down a lucrative offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association and, according to Abdul-Jabbar, was offered the job of manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team in the 1960s.
He remained devoted to UCLA, where his highest salary was a modest $32,500. He wrote several books about basketball and often denounced the dunk shot, flashy play and overzealous coaching, which he believed were damaging his sport.
He read widely, sprinkling his conversation with quotations from Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr., Socrates and Gandhi, and was especially knowledgeable about the life and works of Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa.
Mr. Wooden lived in a condominium in Encino, Calif., with his wife, Nell Riley Wooden, who died of cancer in 1985 after 53 years of marriage. He kept her robe on her side of the bed, and each month on the anniversary of her death wrote her a love letter, which he placed on her pillow.
Survivors include two children; seven grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
He led a summer basketball camp for years after his retirement in 1975 and said there was only one thing he missed about coaching.
“I don’t miss the tournament at all,” he said in 1988. “And I don’t miss the games. What I do miss is the daily practice, the preparation. Cervantes once said, ‘The road is better than the end.’ That’s how I feel about basketball.”
Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden’s lessons on basketball ring true today
By Michael Wilbon
Sunday, June 6, 2010
LOS ANGELES The NBA Finals, quite appropriately, became a sidebar to the mourning and celebration of a legend. The big boys watched film and plotted strategy Saturday afternoon with an eye on the game’s biggest prize, just as Coach John Wooden would have wanted them to. It was the most appropriate tribute of all the ones paid to him here in the immediate wake of his passing. Even the oldest among them, the Lakers and Celtics in their mid-30s, are too young to have seen the UCLA Bruins of Alcindor and Walton, and mostly of Wooden, play championship basketball in the 1960s and ’70s. But it is a standard they’re still trying to reach.
Whatever they didn’t know before about Wooden and UCLA, Wooden and his dear wife Nell, Wooden and his “Pyramid of Success,” Wooden and his relationship with his players — they know now. Southern California appears content to take its sweet time lavishing praise on perhaps the most important and most respected coach in American history.
While basketball may have deeper roots 3,000 miles northeast of here, where the game originated, nowhere in America is the game bigger than in Los Angeles. And while the Lakers are the current object of that obsession, Wooden helped make basketball here what it is. And while he never coached a game in the NBA, Wooden’s players helped make the league what it became in the 1970s, since he and UCLA gave professional basketball, among others, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton, Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Sidney Wicks and Marques Johnson.
Of course, the kids don’t come into professional basketball prepared to that degree anymore, and it shows on both levels. Despite Wooden’s 10 NCAA championships at UCLA and living by the motto “failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” those who oversee the game somehow forgot the importance of serving an apprenticeship.
And Wooden was never, ever unprepared at any stage of his life. He didn’t begin winning at UCLA, and the winning wasn’t only the result of recruiting great players. As a senior in college, Wooden won the 1932 NCAA title, playing with Purdue. As a pro who played long before the NBA was created, Wooden once hit 138 straight free throws. When he coached at Central High School in South Bend, Ind., his record was 218-42. When he moved up to college to coach what is now Indiana State, Wooden’s record was 47-14. One year after he got to UCLA, which had been a doormat, the Bruins won their first conference championship. The sun rose, John Wooden won.
I’ve had the great fortune in recent years to work with Walton, probably Wooden’s second-greatest player behind Alcindor. And I could never get enough of Walton telling stories about Coach Wooden. They had more to do with living than playing basketball, and at the end of one story, I’d feel like saying, “Okay, Uncle Bill, pleeeeze tell us another one.”
A great many of his inspirational quotes were posted on various Web sites Saturday, many of them recognizable.
My favorite, which Georgetown Coach John Thompson introduced to me when I was covering the Hoyas back in the early 1980s, was, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
The one that ought to be posted in every single locker room in America, particularly where AAU teams play, is “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” That and “Ability is a poor man’s wealth.”
There were so many, all of them timeless and motivational, such as: “Nothing will work unless you do” and “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” which is the cousin of “The athlete who says that something cannot be done should never interrupt the one who is doing it.”
Long after he was retired, when asked about his success as a coach, Wooden said something the players in this series might want to keep in mind as they take the court here Sunday before a crowd of people who worshiped Wooden and his philosophies, many of whom watched the Bruins in person when they won those championships. “As a teacher-coach,” he said, “I was blessed with two of the greatest players who ever played, who were completely unselfish and team oriented: Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. ‘Me’ was never first in them. It was always ‘we.’ That’s pretty wonderful.”
John Wooden: Untouchable record, incomparable man
By John Feinstein
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Through the years, there have always been milestones in sports thought to be untouchable. Once, Lou Gehrig’s string of playing in 2,130 consecutive baseball games was on that list. Then Cal Ripken Jr. came along. Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 professional major golf championships was thought to be completely out of reach since no one else had won more than 11. The record still stands, but Tiger Woods now lurks just four behind. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is considered sacred, but Pete Rose did get within 12 of the magic number.
There’s one men’s college basketball record, though, that not only will never be broken, the likelihood is it will never even be threatened: 10 national titles. That’s how many NCAA championships John Wooden won at UCLA. No other coach — not Mike Krzyzewski, not Adolph Rupp, not Bob Knight, not Dean Smith — has even gotten halfway to that mark. In fact, those four, generally considered the four greatest college basketball coaches in the game’s history not named Wooden, have won 13 titles combined. Perhaps even more remarkable: Wooden won those 10 championships during a 12-season span, beginning in 1964 and ending in 1975, when he retired after UCLA beat Kentucky in that year’s national championship game.
He was 64 when he walked away — younger than Rupp, Knight or Smith were when they retired and the same age Krzyzewski will be next February. He was 99 when he died on Friday, the unquestioned best in the history of his sport. Some may talk about how Wooden won his titles in such a different era. Others will bring up the whispers about UCLA players being taken care of by the famous booster Sam Gilbert in ways that ran outside of NCAA regulations.
Either argument misses the forest for the trees. Wooden won in 1964 and 1965 with a small team that pressed all over the court. He won from 1967 through 1969 with center Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), the greatest player in college basketball history. He won the two years after that with Steve Patterson, very decidedly not the greatest player in college basketball history, replacing Alcindor. Then he won twice more with Bill Walton in the middle, and he won his last title with a team that probably should have lost to Louisville in the national semifinals and easily could have lost to Kentucky in the championship game.
He also saw to it that almost all of his players graduated, and if freshmen had been eligible when Alcindor was a UCLA freshman in 1966, he might easily have won 10 straight national titles instead of nine in 10 years, from 1964 through 1973.
Wooden won with more talent and more size than the opposition, and he won with less talent and size than the opposition. He won playing fast, and he won playing slow. On the rare occasions when he did lose, he never blamed his players or the officials. He was as gracious in defeat as he was in victory.
Red Auerbach, arguably the greatest professional coach of all time, knew Wooden well and often made fun of how proper and Midwestern Wooden always was. Several years ago, before he died in 2006, Auerbach talked about the fact that he believed he was one of the few people who ever gave Wooden a hard time about anything.
“I used to tease him about the fact that he would never curse,” Auberbach said. “He would say to me, ‘Red, you don’t have to use profanity to motivate players.’ I would say to him, ‘John, you don’t have to use profanity to motivate players. Most of us do.’
“But the thing people missed with him was how smart he was. He was genuinely a humble guy, never pointed out how well he’d coached or how he had outsmarted the other guy. He just did it, smiled and moved on to the next thing. The thing he did best, though, was he could coach anybody: Some of those guys he had, especially Abdul-Jabbar and Walton, weren’t exactly easy to deal with. But they never questioned him. People didn’t give him credit for how much he got out of those guys and all the guys who played for him.”
Krzyzewski has been asked through the years if his success — he has been to 11 Final Fours, only one fewer than Wooden — is somehow comparable to Wooden’s because it now takes six victories to win the national title as compared to four throughout most of Wooden’s run. (It was five the last time he won, in 1975.) Krzyzewski’s answer has always been emphatic.
“What Coach Wooden did will never be touched,” Krzyzewski has often said. “And the number of games you win in the tournament isn’t as important as the number you can lose — none. One bad shooting night or one good shooting night by the other team and you’re gone. One bad call can knock you out, or a key injury at the wrong time. That’s the beauty of the college game and of the tournament. But it’s also the reason why none of us has ever come close to what he did and none of us ever will.
“You can have a pretty good argument about who is the second-greatest college coach of all time. There’s absolutely no argument about who is the greatest.”
I had the chance to know him even though he was out of coaching before I began working at The Post because he was always so accessible. As recently as 2006, when I wrote a book on the Final Four, he was still a great interview: His memory was extraordinary, and his insights always made you stop and think.
My most vivid memory of him though, goes back to the 1984 Final Four in Seattle. Coach Wooden’s wife Nell was terminally ill and had come to the Final Four knowing it was likely going to be her last one. She was in a wheelchair, and all weekend, Coach Wooden pushed her around trying to see as many friends as possible.
Late one night in the coaches’ hotel, the Woodens said their goodnights to a group of friends and started across the lobby. The place was packed even though it was well after midnight. Seeing Coach Wooden pushing his wife in the direction of the elevators, someone started to clap. Then someone else picked it up and then someone else. By the time the Woodens had reached the elevators, everyone in the lobby had turned in their direction and was clapping. No wild cheers — John Wooden was never someone who wanted wild cheers — just warm applause and quite a few tears.
Coach Wooden stopped and turned Nell so she could face everyone. The two of them waved their hands and nodded their thanks.
Years later, I asked Coach Wooden if he remembered that moment, and for an instant, I thought he had forgotten because he was completely silent. Finally he said: “Oh yes, I remember it. That was a very sad time for me, but having all those people do that so spontaneously, well, it meant a lot to me and to Nell. There is nothing quite like the respect of your peers.”
For one of the few times in his life, John Wooden was wrong. As a coach, he had no peers. And he was a better man than he was a coach.
That, more than anything, is his legacy.