America's Greatest Coach
Leaves Written Legacy
By Fred Delkin
We were no fan of his as his teams consistently whipped our alma mater and almost all
other teams they faced as the late John Wooden (1910-2010) coached UCLA basketball teams to
no less than 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year period and rang up an 88-game winning
streak with his Bruins. The Wizard of Westwood logged an .804 winning percentage in
Division I basketball at UCLA and Indiana State and tallied four unbeaten seasons at UCLA.
America has never spawned an equivalent coaching success in any athletic endeavor.
Now we can all share the values of this incredible human being with the publication of "The
Wisdom of Wooden" (McGraw Hill 2010), authored by the man himself with the aid of Steve
Jamison, a UCLA academic. This work includes historic photos chronicling the highlights of a
career that included earning All-American status as a guard for Purdue University (1929-33).
Wooden credits his father Joshua for installing the principles of his son's achievments.
"Make each day your masterpiece" counsels the son..."become the best that you are capable of becoming...that has been at the center of my thinking since the day I left home and went out on my own...the person you are is the person your children become. Show love and compassion, self-control and discipline; seek knowledge and demonstrate good values." Wooden declared that "teaching is the most important profession in the world. Coaching is just another word for teaching. Perfection is a goal that can never be reached, but it must be your objective."
A golden roster of Wooden's pupils includes Gail Goodrich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sidney
Wicks and Bill Walton, all first team all-Americans. Wooden won with diverse lineups. His
second national championship was won with a squad of short, quick players, led by Goodrich.
Later, those talltrees Jabbar and Walton delivered titles. In 1967, Wooden's Bruins started a
junior and four sophomores, including Jabbar (then named Lew Alcindor), to beat Dayton in the
NCAA title game. In 1969 Wooden became the first coach to win five NCAA championships,
including three in a row. His tenth title came with a win over Kentucky in 1975, led by center
Richard Washington, a graduate of Portland, Oregon's Benson high school. The Wooden
Oregon connection was significant as Walton and Wicks achieved NBA stardom with the
The level of achievment Wooden reached with UCLA, 10 titles in 12 years, is underlined by the
fact that only Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski are his closest title rivals,
with four apiece. No other men's NCAA Division I mentor has earned more than one. Lest you
think basketball was Wooden's sole athletic kingdom, he was listed in Golf Digest magazine for
scoring both a double eagle and a hole-in-one in the same round of golf at South Bend, Indiana's
Country Club in 1947.
Recognition of this man's gifts include College Basketball Hall of Fame, 6-time NCAA national
coach-of-the-year, 3-time college basketball all-American with Purdue and 1932 national college
player-of-the-year. The son of Roxie and Joshua Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana in October
1910. He married his only wife, Nellie, in Indianapolis in 1932 and they brought two children
into this world, James and Nancy, both still living. Nellie died in March, 1985 after serving for
decades as the seated in the stands subject of a pre-game salute from her husband. Daughter Nan
declares "I am so proud that his example of how to live life has been so important to so many for
Other cogent quotes on Coach John include football coach Bill Walsh: "John is a man whose
beliefs, teachings, and wisdom go far beyond sports." Sportscaster Dick Enberg: "...the wisest
man I've ever known...the bar will never be set higher."
"The Wisdom of Wooden...My Century on and off the Court" is a 'must read' for anyone, sports
fan or not. It is packed with this man's observations on life. It reveals the principles that led to
his unprecedented success. Coach says "I personally don't know anyone older than me, so let me
share something...life goes by in a flicker...we are all pilgrims passing through on our way to
eternity...each day matters, and as you see the weeks and months and years unfold, you'll have
the deepest satisfaction of knowing yourlife has really meant something."
Thanks, Coach, for inspiring us all.
© 2010 Oregon Magazine