Skip to content

Coaching Legend John Wooden, R.I.P.

John Wooden, who led his UCLA basketball team to a record of 10 national championships in the 1960s and 1970s, a record that is unlikely to ever be broken, and who is rightly considered as the greatest coach in American college basketball, died of natural causes on Friday, June 4, 2010. He was 99.

Coach Wooden was a mild-mannered man who molded a dynasty at UCLA by instilling a quiet discipline in his players, emphasizing group effort over individual efforts. His favorite part of coaching was teaching the fundamentals that were the foundation of his success. Called the “Wizard of Westwood,” after UCLA’s Los Angeles neighborhood, but reportedly never liked the nickname. Although remembered primarily as a coach, Coach Wooden was an outstanding 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.

Following are reactions from those who knew him best, former players and coaches:

“He set quite an example. He was more like a parent than a coach. He really was a very selfless and giving human being, but he was a disciplinarian. We learned all about those aspects of life that most kids want to skip over. He wouldn’t let us do that.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

“He was always the boss. He always knew what to say. Even in the heyday of winning and losing, you could almost discuss anything with him. He always had that composure and wit about him. He could connect with all kind of people and situations and always be in control of himself and seemingly of the situation.” — former UCLA star Jamaal Wilkes

“This is a sad day at UCLA. Coach Wooden’s legacy transcends athletics; what he did was produce leaders. But his influence has reached far beyond our campus and even our community. Through his work and his life, he imparted his phenomenal understanding of leadership and his unwavering sense of integrity to so many people. His ‘Pyramid of Success’ hangs in my office to remind me every day of what it takes to be an effective leader. He was truly a legend in his own time, and he will be a legend for generations to come.” — UCLA chancellor Gene Block

“He was a coach. If you asked him what he did for a living … he’d tell you that he was a teacher. … He taught basketball. He taught about life. And that’s the way he looked at his life.” — Denny Crum, who played for Coach Wooden and served as his assistant at UCLA before becoming head coach at the University of Louisville from 1971 to 2001.