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A Tribute to John Wooden

Posted: Wednesday, December 31st, 1969

On Friday, June 4th, John Wooden, 'Coach, ' passed away at the age of ninety-nine, just four months before his one-hundredth birthday. Accolades immediately poured in and will, no doubt, continue to. It is fitting to slow down long enough to consider a man who was undeniably successful in his field. As the head basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, he led them to ten championships, six more than any other coach in the sport's history. He also won 885 of 1088 games in his career as a coach, including four undefeated seasons and nineteen conference championships. He was so successful that, following his retirement, successive coaches could not operate under his shadow. As Greg Veis in the New Republic put it, "Wooden still was UCLA basketball then (long after retirement), the one whose mere presence in the arena made the program seem elite and dignified, even during the years when it was neither."

Wooden was often asked the secret of his success. He replied that he had a few fundamental rules for his team members. First, they were always to be on time. He considered being late as wasteful and dishonest. Second, he wanted his players to always be neat and clean. When Bill Walton showed up at the University, he had a beard and long hair. When Coach Wooden told him to shave it off, Bill told him he had no right to make him do that. Coach replied, "Have it your way. But we'll miss you on the team." On another occasion Walton showed up, ready for a ride to an away game, but not neat and clean in the coach's view. The coach wouldn't let him get on the bus. "Go get yourself neat and catch a plane if you can, " he told him. The third rule, he would not tolerate a word of profanity. If he heard a player using profanity, that player sat on the bench. Fourth, he told his players to never criticize a fellow player. "That's what I get paid to do. Your job is to encourage each other."

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