Wooden: A Coach's Life
by Seth Davis, Author of When March Went Mad
A provocative and revelatory new biography of the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, by one of America’s top college basketball writers
Listen: Seth Davis introduces Wooden: A Coach's Life
No college basketball coach has ever dominated the sport like John Wooden. His UCLA teams reached unprecedented heights in the 1960s and ’70s capped by a run of ten NCAA championships in twelve seasons and an eighty-eight-game winning streak, records that stand to this day. Wooden also became a renowned motivational speaker and writer, revered for his “Pyramid of Success.”
Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports has written the definitive biography of Wooden, an unflinching portrait that draws on archival research and more than two hundred interviews with players, opponents, coaches, and even Wooden himself. Davis shows how hard Wooden strove for success, from his All-American playing days at Purdue through his early years as a high school and college coach to the glory days at UCLA, only to discover that reaching new heights brought new burdens and frustrations. Davis also reveals how at the pinnacle of his career Wooden found himself on questionable ground with alumni, referees, assistants, and even some of his players. His was a life not only of lessons taught, but also of lessons learned.
Woven into the story as well are the players who powered Wooden’s championship teams – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Walt Hazzard, and others – many of whom speak frankly about their coach. The portrait that emerges from Davis’s remarkable biography is of a man in full, whose life story still resonates today.
Praise for Wooden: A Coach's Life
“This is a superb biography, worthy of its subject. With deep research, clear writing, and objective thinking, Seth Davis has cut through the mythology to present John Wooden and his UCLA dynasty in a fresh and compulsively readable way.”
—David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi
Wooden: A Coach’s Life is a truly remarkable achievement. Seth Davis has produced the most authoritative, comprehensive, and entertaining book ever written on John Wooden. He immerses us in every area of Wooden’s life and provides a detailed and rich picture of this complicated and iconic man. I simply couldn’t put it down. Wooden is a master work.”
—Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst and author of Toughness
“Relentlessly researched and written with devastating detail and texture, Seth Davis has delivered the definitive biography on the most important figure in college basketball history. There are complexities in the simplicity of Wooden and his UCLA dynasty, and Davis peels back the myths to bring light to the truths. This is Wooden, in full.”
—Adrian Wojnarowski, author of The Miracle of St. Anthony and Yahoo Sports NBA columnist
“Who knew that John Wooden was a pool shark? That’s just one of the many fascinating revelations in Seth Davis’s insightful bio of the man who remains the gold standard for basketball coaches. No one needed humanizing more than the Wizard, and Seth figured out how to do it. Goodness gracious sakes alive (as Wooden would say), this is a terrific book.”
—Jack McCallum, author of the New York Times bestseller Dream Team
“Finally: the definitive biography of this country’s greatest coach. Seth Davis has masterfully captured the real John Wooden: his virtue and genius, but also his pugnacious youth, his contradictions, and yes, his mistakes. If coaches have become self-promoters, herein is a cure: the epic of a modest man. In telling the story of a coach and his game, Davis also renders the American century. What’s more, this book answers the question coaches must ask when they turn off the light: How can I be good?”
—Mark Kriegel, bestselling author of Pistol and Namath
“Wooden has long stood as a giant in the world of college sports. In revealing the real man behind the legend, Davis has done honor to the legacy of a true gentleman.”
—Kirkus, (starred review)
“Davis has avoided stultifying, game-by-game details (but does offer genuinely exciting accounts of several key games) and has provided a multidimensional, nearly cradle-to-grave portrait of a highly successful and revered coach and teacher, in the process delivering a history of the evolution of college basketball and profiles of many of its stars.”
—Booklist, (starred review)
“Davis paints an unusually rich and illuminating portrait of the coaching mission.”
An Excerpt from Wooden: A Coach's Life
Prologue: The Den
The first thing you noticed were the books. Big books, little books, picture books, children’s books, art books, religious books, coaching books, sports books, fiction books, science books. Before I walked through the door, they were there to greet me in tall, neat piles in the front hallway. The books were stacked on floors, lined up on tables, piled on desks, jammed into bookcases. The apartment was barely two thousand square feet, yet it seemed that most of it was covered by something that could be read.
John Wooden was careful not to trip over the books as he made his way to his favorite easy chair in the den. Another dozen or so stood on the floor beside the chair, lined up as if on a shelf. The coffee table that sat in front of the television was likewise covered, a source of irritation for a man with a compulsive need for order. “Organization was one of my strengths for a long time, but now just look at that table with all that stuff on it,” he said as he invited me to sit on the couch. I asked Wooden how many of the books in that room he had read. “Maybe half,” he replied. “But I’ve browsed them all.”
It was September 2006. Wooden was not quite ninety-six years old. Even at his advanced age, he was still a student of the world, eager to collect one more crumb of wisdom that he could dispense to the next friend, interviewer, former player, or stranger who came calling. Though his eyes were not as good as they used to be, and though he tired easily, this old widower still turned to books during those rare, quiet hours when he didn’t have a visitor or the phone wasn’t ringing. Besides keeping him company in the present, they also served as a tether to his past, a dog-eared monument to the person who influenced him more than any other: his father, Joshua Hugh Wooden.
Hugh, as he was known, loved reading, both to himself and to his children. Though he did not have any formal education past high school, he was so facile with the English language that when he did crossword puzzles, he invented ways to make them more challenging. “For instance, he’d do it in a spiral form until he’d end up putting the last letter right in the middle of it,” said Billy Wooden, John’s younger brother. After a hard day’s work, Hugh loved nothing more than to sit down, crack open the Bible or another book, and read poetry to his four sons by the light of an oil lamp.
Seth Davis is the author of the New York Times bestseller When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball and the memoir Equinunk, Tell Your Story: My Return to Summer Camp. In 1995, he joined the staff of Sports Illustrated, where he is currently a senior writer. He is also an on-air studio analyst for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network during coverage of college basketball and the NCAA tournament. A graduate of Duke University, he lives with his family in Los Angeles.
What People are Saying about John Wooden
Seth Davis Visits the John Wooden Den at the UCLA Hall of Fame
Seth Davis visits the UCLA Hall of Fame to meet with Bill Bennett from the UCLA Sports Information Department to check out the near-exact replication of John Wooden's den.
John Wooden's Career Highlights
- Enshrined 1960, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (player).
- An All-State career at Martinsville High School.
- Helms Athletic Foundation All-America at Purdue University, 1930, 1931, 1932.
- Helms Athletic Foundation Player of the Year, 1932.
- National championship with Purdue University, 1932.
- All-NBL First Team, 1938.
- Nicknamed “Indiana Rubber Man” at Purdue University for his fearless dives on the court and ability to bounce back after a physical play.
- Wooden led the National Basketball League in scoring in 1932-33 with the Indianapolis Kautskys.
- Wooden led the Whiting All-Americans into the National Basketball League playoffs in 1938, where he recorded the highest scoring average of any player that season.
- Wooden retired as a player in 1939 to turn his complete attention to coaching.
- Inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
- Enshrined 1973, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (coach).
- Wooden was named NCAA College Basketball's "Coach of the Year" in 1964, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973.
- Wooden coached the UCLA Bruins to 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons (including 7 in a row).
- Coached the UCLA Bruins to 4 perfect 30-0 seasons.
- Led the UCLA Bruins to 620 wins in 27 seasons. (Overall .804 winning percentage).
- Led the UCLA Bruins to a record 88 straight victories and 38 straight NCAA Tournament victories.
- Named the Henry Iba Award USBWA College Basketball Coach of the Year in 1967.
- In 1972, Wooden shared Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award with Billie Jean King.
- Nicknamed "The Wizard of Westwood" during his tenure at UCLA.
- In 2009, Wooden was named The Sporting News "Greatest Coach of All Time".
- Since 1977, the most coveted of four college basketball player of the year awards has been named the John R. Wooden Award.
- John Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993, the nation's highest civilian honor.
Concensus All-Americans Coached by Wooden
Lucius Allen, 1968
Duane Klueh, 1948
Dave Meyers, 1975
Jamaal Wilkes, 1973-1974
|1947-48||Indiana State||34||27||7||.794||runner-up in NAIB Finals|
|1961-62||UCLA||29||18||11||.621||NCAA West Regional Champions|
|1973-74||UCLA||30||26||4||.867||NCAA West Regional champions|