John Wooden was the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) men's basketball coach from 1948 to 1975. During that period, he won ten NCAA men's basketball championships, had four undefeated seasons, and once won 88 consecutive games. He also won seven consecutive NCAA championships from 1967 to 1973. To put this all into perspective, Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky won four championships, total, and he is second to Wooden. All of these accomplishments are records, but they do not begin to tell the story of the man considered to be the most successful coach in American sports history.
Wooden would leave a legacy at UCLA which would set expectations for future coaches at unattainable heights, though he never even discussed winning or losing. Wooden simply considered himself a teacher of good habits. A man who is uncomfortable being thought of as a legend, Wooden never set out to do anything more than to teach young men how to be the best they could be, both at basketball and in life. His discipline, standards, ideals, loyalty, dedication, and self-control were all important factors that would cause him to become the leader at UCLA which all future coaches would be measured against.
Whether this is fair or not is certainly debatable, but UCLA has not experienced the successes it had under Wooden since he retired. Therefore, we must explore what shaped John Wooden into such a successful leader, what were the reasons of his unparalleled success, and what UCLA can do, if anything, to once again reach the heights it had experienced under Wooden.
John Wooden's Biography
John Robert Wooden was born in Hall, Indiana in 1910. The son of rural farmers, Wooden grew up without much money. This factor would be instrumental in teaching the young Wooden the value of hard work. He was an excellent basketball player, and even earned a scholarship to play at Purdue University in the Big Ten Conference. He went on to earn many accolades as a college player, but the most valuable award in his eyes was the Big Ten medal for excellence in scholarship. Wooden was good enough to play professionally, but unlike today, it was not a very lucrative job.
Wooden graduated from college in 1932, married his high school sweetheart, Nellie, that same year (they were together until her death), and took a job teaching English and coaching basketball at a high school. That same year, Wooden would experience his only losing season in 40 plus years of coaching. He taught English and coached basketball until World War II interrupted life, and Wooden joined the navy. He served his country, unselfishly, for four years before returning stateside and once again taking up a position of teaching English and coaching basketball at Indiana State.
Unsurprisingly, his teams at Indiana State were successful right away. Indiana State won the conference title in 1946, but Wooden rejected the opportunity to play in the postseason tournament because it did not allow blacks. Interestingly enough, Indiana State had only one black player on the team, a reserve guard who did not even play much. The white players wanted to play in the postseason tournament without the black player because it was an honor to get invited to even play in the tournament, but Wooden stuck with his ideals and refused the invite, even though it was probably not the most popular decision.
The next year, Indiana State again won the conference title and again was invited to play in the same tournament. However, this year the tournament did allow black players, in no small part due to Wooden, and the reserve guard for Indiana State became the first ever black participant in a college basketball postseason basketball tournament. Wooden was truly ahead of his times, as about two months later, a man by the name of Jackie Robinson would break the Major League Baseball color barrier.
Wooden's success at Indiana State led to other...