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Cover Story August 6th, 2009

  Untitled Document

photo

Coach John Wooden, in his prime

The Coaches Coach

The Coach Says...

NEWS ITEM: Hall of Famer John Wooden was honored Wednesday, July 29th, as the greatest coach in American sports history by the "Sporting News".

The legendary UCLA coach, known for his subtle yet brilliant tactics, was feted by family, friends, former colleagues and former players at a Sherman Oaks restaurant. Wooden, now 98, received an overwhelming nod in a poll of 118 well-known coaches and experts from various field assembled by the magazine. Wooden's closest competitor was former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who got 20 first-place votes.

Another Salute To John Wooden
by lyle e davis

“On the 21st of the month, the best man I know will do what he always does on the 21st of the month. He'll sit down and pen a love letter to his best girl. He'll say how much he misses her and loves her and can't wait to see her again.

Then he'll fold it once, slide it in a little envelope and walk into his bedroom. He'll go to the stack of love letters sitting there on her pillow, untie the yellow ribbon, place the new one on top and tie the ribbon again. The stack will be 240 letters high then, because the 21st will be 20 years to the day since Nellie, his beloved wife of 53 years, died.

In her memory, he sleeps only on his half of the bed, only on his pillow, only on top of the sheets, never between, with just the old bedspread they shared to keep him warm. There's never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA, the last in 1975. Nobody has ever come within six of him.

photoHe won 88 straight games between January 30, 1971, and January 17, 1974. Nobody has come within 42 since.

So, sometimes, when the Basketball Madness gets to be too much -- too many players trying to make Sports Center, too few players trying to make assists, too few coaches willing to be mentors, too many freshmen with outof- wedlock kids, too few freshmen who will stay in school long enough to become men -- I like to go see Coach Wooden. I visit him in his little condo in Encino, 20 minutes northwest of Los Angeles, and hear him say things like "Gracious sakes alive!" and tell stories about teaching "Lewis" the hook shot. Lewis Alcindor, that is . . . who became Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

There has never been another coach like Wooden, quiet as an April snow and square as a game of checkers; loyal to one woman, one school, one way; walking around campus in his sensible shoes and Jimmy Stewart morals. He'd spend a half hour the first day of practice teaching his men how to put on a sock. "Wrinkles can lead to blisters," he'd warn. These huge players would sneak looks at one another and roll their eyes. Eventually, they'd do it right. "Good," he'd say. "And now for the other foot."

Of the 180 players who played for him, Wooden knows the whereabouts of 172. Of course, it's not hard when most of them call, checking on his health, secretly hoping to hear some of his simple life lessons so that they can write them on the lunch bags of their kids, who will roll their eyes.

"Discipline yourself, and others won't need to," Coach would say. "Never lie, never cheat, never steal," and "Earn the right to be proud and confident."

If you played for him, you played by his rules: Never score without acknowledging a teammate. One word of profanity, and you're done for the day. Treat your opponent with respect. He believed in hopelessly out-of-date stuff that never did anything but win championships. No dribbling behind the back or through the legs. "There's no need," he'd say.

No UCLA basketball number was retired under his watch. "What about the fellows who wore that number before? Didn't they contribute to the team?" he'd say. No long hair, no facial hair. "They take too long to dry, and you could catch cold leaving the gym," he'd say. That one drove his players bonkers.

One day, All-America center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. "It's my right," he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. "That's good, Bill," Coach said. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do. We're going to miss you." Walton shaved it right then and there. Now Walton calls once a week to tell Coach he loves him. It's always too soon when you have to leave the condo and go back out into the real world, where the rules are so much grayer and the teams so much worse.

As Wooden shows you to the door, you take one last look around. The framed report cards of his greatgrandkids, the boxes of jellybeans peeking out from under the favorite wooden chair, the dozens of pictures of Nellie. He's almost 90 now. You think a little more hunched over than last time. Steps a little smaller. You hope it's not the last time you see him. He smiles. "I'm not afraid to die," he says. "Death is my only chance to be with her again."

Problem is, we still need him here.”

Rick Reilly,
“The Life of Reilly”

The above column appeared in the March 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated. Rick Reilly is a senior ‘The Coaches Coach’ Cont. from Page 1 writer for Sports Illustrated, and has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year eight times. This is the type of adulation, an almost reverential feeling of admiration for John Wooden.

While I’m not a big fan of basketball, I’m a big fan of great people - people who are not only wise, but kind, considerate, well disciplined. That’s John Wooden.

I have a good friend who is a professional screenwriter in the Los Angeles area. His name is Mel Sherer. He has written many screen plays, comedy routines, and pilots. When he heard we were going to do a profile on John Wooden, he wrote:

“I was lucky enough to know and talk with Coach Wooden back when I was at UCLA. I was on the track and football teams, so I always was in the Men's Gym, which was the facility we had at the time for our conditioning, etc. I'd see Coach on the stairs or in the locker room or just walking on campus and I'd say "hi." He'd always stop and chat. He did that with everyone he knew, I guess, if he had a few moments. I'd want to talk basketball. He'd ask me about how my classes were going. Many years later ... I think about 25 or so, my friends and I organized a reunion of many of the guys from our dormitory floor at school. We invited Coach Wooden to attend. To our absolute surprise and overwhelming delight, he accepted. We spent the entire afternoon talking with him over lunch, about his life (Nell had died), his theories, what he felt was important. He wanted to know about us. What a great man he is. What a truly great man. He'd be the last to say it, of course. If you're looking for a hero to pattern yourself after, look no farther than Coach (I mean Teacher) John R. Wooden. In my life, when faced with a difficult situation, I just think: What would Coach Wooden do? I'm not kidding. If you ever, and I hope you do, have a chance to talk to the man, please do it. You'll understand how his teachings and the way he lives his life are so inspirational to those who know him. Without a doubt, he is the greatest person I have ever known.”

And that’s how people feel about this inspirational man.

President George W. Bush thinks rather highly of John Wooden as well. He awarded Wooden the 2003 Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House July 23rd, 2003. If he never coached one game of basketball in his life, John Wooden would still be a very, very special man. But, fortunately for the sports world, he did coach a game or two. Quite a few in fact.

John Wooden is the only person to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Coach Wooden ended his coaching career of 40 seasons retiring in 1975 with 885 wins and only 203 losses. John R. Wooden is a record-setting college basketball coach and exceptional teacher whose UCLA Bruins won 10 National Championships in 12 years. His teams reflected his discipline, character, and work ethic. His Pyramid of Success has inspired generations.

John Wooden was a fabulous player before becoming the most successful coach in college basketball history. He enjoyed an All-State career at Martinsville High School in Indiana, and at Purdue University was called the "Indiana Rubber Man" for his suicidal dives on the court. An excellent play maker and aggressive defender, Wooden was a three-time Helms Athletic Foundation All-American and named College Player of the Year in 1932, the year he and fellow Hall of Famer Charles "Stretch" Murphy led Purdue to the national championship. Wooden, who cites Ward Lambert, his Purdue coach, as being his greatest coaching influence, enjoyed a brief but successful semi-pro career before turning his complete attention to coaching.

The John Wooden-coached UCLA teams scaled unprecedented heights that no future organization in any sport is likely to approach. Under the masterful guidance of Wooden, the Bruins set all-time records with four perfect 30-0 seasons, 88 consecutive victories, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories, 20 PAC 10 championships, and 10 national championships, including seven in a row.

After graduation from college, Wooden pursued a career in coaching. He spent two years at Dayton (KY) High School and nine years at South Bend (IN) Central High School, compiling a 218-42 record. Wooden then coached at Indiana State University, where he recorded a two-year 44-15 mark. Wooden's big break came in 1948, when he accepted the head coaching position at UCLA. Although he would not win his first national title until 15 years later, Wooden began laying the groundwork for what would become the dynasty of all dynasties. He believed in lengthy practices for conditioning and endless drills to perfect fundamental skills.

Considered one of the finest teachers the game has ever seen, Wooden's approach rested on the idea that basketball is a game of threes: forward, guard, center; shoot, drive, pass; ball, you, man; conditioning, skill, teamwork. The latter was taught by coach Lambert at Purdue and forms the three blocks at the core of Wooden's own Pyramid of Success. The Pyramid is a wellknown by-product of the Wooden coaching era. The principles outlined in it form the basis of Wooden's outlook on life and explain much of his success on and off the court. His ability to instill these principles upon his players made Wooden a master of developing talent. His premier players included All- Americans Walt Hazzard, Gail Goodrich, Lew Alcindor, Lucius Allen, Mike Warren, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe, Henry Bibby, Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes, Richard Washington and Dave Meyers.

Some of John Wooden’s quotes:

Ability
Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.

Attitude
Nothing will work unless you do.

Faith
There are many things that are essential to arriving at true peace of mind, and one of the most important is faith, which cannot be acquired without prayer.

Mind
You cannot attain and maintain physical condition unless you are morally and mentally conditioned. And it is impossible to be in good moral condition unless you are spiritually conditioned. “I always told my players that our team condition depended on two factors -- how hard they worked on the floor during practice and how well they behaved between practices.”

Perseverance
It's not so important who starts the game but who finishes it. Sports Sports do not build character. They reveal it.

Success
Success is peace of mind, a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming, and not just in a physical way: seek ye first the kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be yours as well.

Youth
Young people need models, not critics...

Now 98, he is still a keen observer of the game. John Wooden was born on October 14, 1910.

The rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

 

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