About Coach John Wooden
Meet the man who had a profound impact on so many
John Robert Wooden is considered the greatest NCAA basketball head coach of all time. But many people knew him simply as coach. On the court, Wooden led the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball program to an impressive number of wins, with a 664-162 record, and was named NCAA College Basketball Coach of the Year six times.
In his more than 40 years as a coach, and through his years as head coach at UCLA, Wooden built teams, an elite athletic program and a legacy that astounded the sports world. While his success on the court is heavily celebrated, Wooden’s teachings extend far beyond the realm of sports. A master teacher, he created the Pyramid of Success and wrote several books to share his philosophy with the world.
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John Wooden was born Oct. 14, 1910, in Hall, Indiana to Roxie Anne and Joshua Hugh Wooden. He grew up on a modest farm with no electricity, where he rose early every morning to help milk the cows and do other farm chores before he headed to school. It was his father that gave him the very first foundation of what would later become the Pyramid of Success.
Wooden began playing a rudimentary version of basketball with his three brothers Maurice, Daniel and William—with a homemade basketball and a tomato basket as a hoop in a barn. But 17 years later, after moving to Martinsville, he would lead the town’s high school basketball team to the Indiana State championship in 1927.
Wooden went on to play ball as a guard at Purdue University from 1928 to 1932, earning three straight All-America selections and named college basketball player of the year. He was selected as team captain when he was a junior, and graduated Purdue with an English degree.
He married the love of his life, Nell Riley, soon after in 1932.
In his early career, Wooden taught English and coached several sports at both Dayton High School in Kentucky and South Bend Central High School in Indiana.
As a teacher, Wooden taught his students that academic success was about more than grades; As a coach, Wooden taught his players that a victory was about more than the number on the scoreboard. He cared deeply for the athletes he led and encouraged them to be winners on more than just the court. To inspire his students and players to work their hardest, he developed the principles of his Pyramid of Success teaching model during his time at South Bend Central High School and beyond.
In 1942, Wooden served as a Navy lieutenant during World War II, and shortly thereafter he returned to the world of basketball. In 1946 coached basketball at Indiana State Teachers College. His basketball teams secured a 44-15 record over two seasons and back-to-back Indiana Collegiate Conference titles. He also coached baseball and served as athletic director while he earned a Master’s degree in English.
In 1947 his team received an invitation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) National Tournament in Kansas City, however he refused the invite because the NAIB banned African-American players.
Wooden arrived at UCLA to take over as head basketball coach in 1948. At the time, the facilities to build a team were subpar, but Wooden was focused on giving his team the discipline to become great competitors—and his players’ hard work paid off.
Over time UCLA won 38 straight NCAA tournaments, had 88 consecutive victories, secured four perfect 30-0 seasons and won 10 national championships. Wooden was the first person to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both player and coach.
“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
Wooden and Nell, his wife of 53 years, had two children, Nan and Jim.
Wooden retired in 1975 but continued to be an influential figure in sports. He received several awards after retiring, including the Reagan Distinguished American Award in 1995 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.
Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom, George W. Bush said, “All his players will tell you, the most important man on their team was not on the court. He was the man who taught generations of basketball players the fundamentals of hard work and discipline, patience and teamwork. Coach Wooden remains a part of their lives as a teacher of the game, and as an example of what a good man should be.”
After a long illness, Nell died in 1985. John was by her bedside. Wooden died June 4, 2010, four months shy of his 100th birthday. He is survived by his two children and seven grandchildren.
Wooden created a lasting legacy, and his lessons continue to have a positive influence on both those in the sports world and people looking to accomplish their goals.
Watch Coach: The Life and Legacy of John R. Wooden, a free documentary produced by SUCCESS Academy, the online learning division of SUCCESS.
Wooden’s UCLA Highlights
- 1948: Bruins win Pacific Coast Conference Southern Division title in Wooden’s first year as coach.
- 1950: UCLA wins its first NCAA tournament.
- 1956: UCLA has a perfect 16-0 season.
- 1960: Wooden is inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player.
- 1962: UCLA makes it to NCAA Final Four for the first time.
- 1964: UCLA defeats Duke to win its first NCAA title and finishes the season with 30-0 record.
- 1964: Wooden is named NCAA college basketball Coach of the Year (and again in 1967, 1969–70 and 1972–73).
- 1965: UCLA defeats Michigan, winning its second NCAA title.
- 1967: UCLA defeats Dayton to win a third NCAA title.
- 1968: UCLA defeats North Carolina to secure its fourth national championship.
- 1969: UCLA defeats Purdue and wins its fifth NCAA title.
- 1970: The Bruins defeat Jacksonville to collect sixth NCAA title, winning four in a row.
- 1971: UCLA begins its 88-game winning streak, an NCAA record.
- 1971: The Bruins defeat Villanova for a seventh NCAA title, securing five consecutive championships.
- 1972: UCLA wins its eighth NCAA title, defeating Florida State. Their sixth straight title came after a 30-0 record season.
- 1973: Wooden is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
- 1973: UCLA has 61 victories in row, breaking the NCAA consecutive-win record.
- 1973: The Bruins defeat Memphis State to win ninth NCAA championship, the team’s seventh straight. UCLA becomes the first school to win back-to-back NCAA titles with perfect 30-0 records both years.
- 1973: Wooden is named Sports Illustrated’s “Sports’ Man of the Year.”