Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Very Best Ever

You can debate who is second, but there is no discussion (in my mind) that John Wooden was the very best coach in any sport, ever. 

He passed at 99 years old yesterday.

Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana and led tiny Martinsville high school to three straight Indiana High School Basketball Finals, winning the title in 1927.  He played for Purdue, becoming the first three time consensus All-American ever.  He played professionally for a number of teams in the Mid-West.  After his playing days, he joined the Navy for World War II. 

Then he got serious about basketball.  

He became coach of Indiana State, refusing to accept an invitation to the NAIA tournament in 1947 because the NAIA refused to allow African American players.  In 1948, he led the Sycamores to the NAIA final, losing to Louisville and becoming the first coach to play an African American player in the post season.  The championship game was notable in that it was the only championship game a Wooden coached team ever lost. 

In 1947, he became coach at UCLA.  In his first season, he led the Bruins to a 22-7 record, turning around a team that hadn't won more than 20 games in its history.  In 1950, Purdue came calling.  Despite the Woodens' dislike for LA, they didn't accept the offer to go, as he had a year left on his original contract.  He turned the Boilermakers down, feeling it would be tantamount to breaking his word to UCLA.  As an aside, he never asked for a raise in between contracts and reportedly retired from UCLA making 35K, turning down an offer of nearly ten times that to coach the LA Lakers in the 70's.

In the 25 years following the 1950 season, he would lead UCLA to 10 NCAA championships, including seven in a row.  The Bruins won 88 straight games and 98 in a row at home during his tenure.  He surprisingly retired at the end of the 1975 season that ended with his 10th championship in a win over Kentucky.

Wooden's graduation rate was over 65%.  Considering the times, that is amazing.  He coached the way he lived.  He earned and gave respect.  The team was paramount, despite having at least two of the biggest stars of the game during his time (Lew Alcindor and Bille Walton) at UCLA.  The team held each other accountable.  He considered himself to be the luckiest man alive, despite coaching at a place that it took nearly 15 years to grow on him, but would never leave as he felt he gave them his word. 

He was one of a kind and the best ever.  Coach Wooden, RIP. 


  1. In today's crazy world of change coaches every few years if they don't win the title Wooden would have been gone before ever winning a conference title as he didn't win his first until I believe year 16 of his time at UCLA.

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