After reading the commentaries on Coach Wooden in the Sunday Times, and thinking about all that has been said and written about Coach in the week past, I come to the conclusion that Coach was a better man than ever I realized, and that his influence was much greater than I had supposed.
As a basketball coach, he was fantastic. It is boring to repeat his 10 national championships and 88 wins, 38 consecutive NCAA wins and that he won both with and without the most dominant players of his generation. We need to keep in mind that he coached for 16 years at UCLA without winning the NCAA title. You might think that he was frustrated in those years by not winning it all, but I seriously doubt it. Coach first and foremost loved being a teacher. In those years, he had the opportunity to teach young men the game he loved, and his relationship with the players from the non-championship era was probably as strong as those from the other years, but not as well publicized.
Coach was loving, loyal and true to UCLA throughout his life. He was the most recognizable name and face associated with the University from the mid 60's until his recent death. His basketball accomplishments made him known, but the way he lived reflected so well on the University. His death has brought positive reflections on his life and the university in a way that is reserved for Kings and Presidents, not coaches.
He was a humble fan of the basketball program from the time he stopped coaching, sitting in his seat behind the bench, giving full support to every coach that followed him, and remaining a draw in recruiting because he was still around. Players like Jordan Farmar and Kevin Love were drawn to UCLA, in part, to continue Coach's legacy and because of his influence on them.
But Coach wasn't only for the basketball program. He attended most football home games and influenced the entirety of the UCLA sports program.
If you have spent any length of time associated with the UCLA Athletic Department, chances are very good that you at least met John Wooden. In fact, as recently as November 2007 at the age of 97, Coach Wooden spoke to the entire UCLA student-athlete population at the inaugural event for The Wooden Academy, a comprehensive leadership and development program for the whole department.
Coach Wooden and his Pyramid of Success heavily influenced all Bruins, and UCLA Softball is no exception.
"I got to UCLA right around when Coach retired," said Hall of Famer Sue Enquist, who originally arrived on the UCLA campus as a student-athlete in 1975, eventually joining the coaching staff in 1980 and serving as sole or co-head softball coach from 1989-2006. "I knew so much about him even before I met him, and that was intimidating until I met him. That all dissipated in the first 30 seconds. He had this disarming charm about him."
If we catalogued all he did for the University, it would run hundreds of pages.
What I am learning on reflection, was that not only was he both a brilliant man, and a good man - but that combination made him the superior person that he was. He would never agree that he was a superior person, but in fact he was. His life was a metaphor for love and loyalty. My words are insufficient, but Coach's words ring true.
One of Coach'e maxims was Make Every Day Your Masterpiece, and understood that "You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for a person who has no ability to repay you." Were these just words, or did he live it? Well, in this he was most certainly superior.
He was superior in that he had good sense to appreciate the values his father had taught to him, and the he was superior in his confidence and self control to live those principles, in world that emphasized and rewarded different values. His number one value was that Love was the most important value, and he lived it. Reflections of dozens of Bruin faithful communicate the same theme - whenever Coach met anyone, he treated them as if they were as important as any other person on the planet, remembered their names, and remembered them again when he met them again on a different chance meeting. There are literally dozens of stories about this in the tributes given, which means that there were probably hundreds, if not thousands of instances where he showed uncommon love and friendship whereever he went.
In this, he "made friendship a fine art" which was also one of his father's maxims. He had the ability to be a friend to all in an unusual way, an uncanny memory for names and faces, and a desire to use it in a way that benefitted both him and the person with whom he was dealing. In this way he effused love for his fellow man, and was able to drink it in for his entire lifetime, as he was repaid over and over with deep love from all who came in contact with him. Most older people live lonely lives hoping people will visit them. Coach constantly had to turn away friends and admirers, as the demands upon him exceeded his ability to meet them.
He was superior in his integrity, coming to UCLA despite a more attractive offer from the University of Minnesota because he had given his word. Not leaving UCLA for his alma mater, Purdue, because the University pointed out that he had asked for the 3 year contract that had 2 years to run. He refused an offered raise at that time, because he said he would honor the contract he had made. This was done outside of the public eye. It is what you do when no one is looking that shows character, and in this, Coach showed his character.
He also had the tremendous ability to inspire people, in the same vein as a Tony Robbins or a Deepak Chopra. In this world, people are hungry for ways to lead them to ways to improve their lives. However, Coach's teachings were primarily designed to benefit the recipients, not him. Coach's life proved he was not in it for the money. Coach turned away opportunities to coach in the NBA, never commanded a salary of more than $35,000 from UCLA and lived modestly in what Bill Walton calls the Mansion on Margate for his entire post UCLA life. He was encouraged by others to write and publish. He did so for the good of others. He realized that: "Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be grateful. Conceit is self-given; be careful." His modesty made his message all the more powerful.
Coach's values radiate from him like a warm sun. Bill Walton is like a walking advertisement for Coach Wooden and his ways. Keith Erickson extols Coach's maxims as a motivational speaker. Virtually every player - Kareem, Jamaal, Gail, Sidney, John Vallely, Andy Hill, and on and on, are walking disciples of Coach's way of life.
I will miss him because I know he is gone, but he remains with us in ways that few who have passed remain. On his website, we can still sit as his knee and get an explanation of the seven maxims, or get an explanation from him, in his own words, of the Pyramid of Success. http://www.coachwooden.com/index2.html
So the essence of Coach has been left behind for us and for generations to come. It is up to us to pass this legacy on to those who will not live during his lifetime. If we do so we will live with love for our fellow man, our society will be better, and as Coach says, our problems will not be as serious as they would otherwise be. Pay it forward.