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John Wooden’s Leadership LegacyJohn Wooden was the greatest coach of all time. During the last 12 years he was the head basketball coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, his teams won 10 national championships, including seven in a row. He built the model for consistently great leadership while working with teams that turned over one-third to one-fourth of their rosters every season.

Related: Why John Wooden’s Teams Won

Wooden passed away in 2010, 35 years removed from his last game on the sidelines. But his influence endures. His books, the copies of his Pyramid of Success that hang on walls around the world, the thousands of speeches he delivered, made him a “mentor” to many. But others can look back on a direct relationship where Wooden shaped their lives forever. Here are four essays from people whom Wooden inspired personally:

John Wooden’s Leadership LegacyDale Brown: Three Secrets to Success

National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame coach Dale Brown spent 25 years at Louisiana State University and twice took teams to the Final Four. He coached some of the greats in the game’s history, including Shaquille O’Neal.

The moment I was hired at LSU in March 1972, I immediately told myself, This is my first college head coaching job, and I can’t blow it. I needed to reach out to the very best people I could in all walks of life to see if I could come ask them some questions about how they became successful and how they maintained that success. I didn’t want to only speak to people in sports, so I decided to ask the very best in the worlds of entertainment, positive thinking and motivational speaking.

When it came to basketball, only one name was on the list: John Wooden. He immediately invited me to his house for a few days. In preparation, I decided I couldn’t waste this man’s time; I had to have something organized. So I went to the alphabet.

I took a yellow legal pad and thought, What can I talk to him about that starts with the letter A? What does he consider achievement? The first thing that he told me was: We should never mistake activity for achievement. There is nothing worse than activity that accomplishes nothing. Next I talked to him about attitude—the attitude of his players, his attitude toward his assistant coaches, and the pressure of winning and dealing with the media and problems that might occur with his players off court. I took notes like a madman because I didn’t bring a tape recorder; I thought it would be rude.

Then I went to B. I asked about bulletin boards. Did he have them, and if so were they to motivate or to instruct? Did he put something up every day?

Then C. Which coaches did he admire and why? Correspondence: Did he handle all of his correspondence? Did he type it or did he handwrite it? Did he have a secretary do it? He told me he answered every letter that he received if he knew who it was from, and most of the time by hand. Occasionally when time was short, he had it typed.

The first day I arrived to his modest home at 8 in the morning. About 6 p.m. I felt like I was imposing upon him. So I said, “Coach, I have taken enough of your time. I am sure you are tired, so I will see you tomorrow.”

He immediately said, “No, Dale. Sit back down, I am not tired. We will continue.” We went to 10:30 p.m. He never seemed to tire.

I went all the way through to Z—notebooks and notebooks full of wisdom.


“Always practice simplicity with constant repetition.”


The last day I was there I wanted to thank him for being so gracious. He came out to my car and walked up to me. He said, “Dale, I am really glad that we had a chance to bond. It was a delightful time, but you could have saved LSU some money and yourself some time. All those pages of notes that you took… there are really just three secrets.” I had already closed my trunk and didn’t want to open it to grab a pad and pen, but I was desperate to do so thinking, Here it comes, here’s the magic.

He said, “The three things that I am going to tell you are fairly simple if you want to be successful. First, make certain that you always have better players than anybody that you play. Make sure you always get those better players to put the team above themselves; that is imperative. Finally, don’t try and be some coaching genius or guru. Don’t give your players too much information. Remember there are only five variables or players on the court. Always practice simplicity with constant repetition.”

As I began my career, I kept going back to those three things in my mind. Obviously we all want great players, but finding the ones who think team first—that’s a challenge. I had to remember that he said to practice simplicity. Most coaches want to be known for their genius, for some strategy that changed the game. But he wanted to be known for keeping it simple.

John Wooden’s Leadership Legacy

From the first time that I met him, I knew he would be my life’s most significant mentor. I saw how he greeted people in restaurants, how humble he was. There was no question he could have been just as happy as a high school coach in Indiana. He was a teacher, always ready to help someone. His number was listed in the phone book. You didn’t have to be a celebrity to enter his home. I remember one time we were there, and a junior high school coach from some place in the Midwest called and came over. Wooden treated that guy with such dignity, asking so many questions and complimenting him to reinforce a lot of the things the coach was doing. I can only imagine the coach flew home on cloud nine.

John Wooden is a legend in basketball, but more important, he is a legend in serving mankind. He was a master teacher and mentor to so many of us.

John Wooden’s Leadership Legacy

Chip Engelland: Focus on the Details

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland is known as “the shot doctor,” a coach who works with players to develop and improve their mechanics. Though Engelland grew up in California, he played college basketball at Duke University in North Carolina. He says that his desire to coach came through his experience as a ball boy for Wooden’s UCLA team.

My first interaction with Coach was at the John Wooden day camp at Palisades High School. It was an incredible opportunity to learn and as a young guy—I think I was a fifth-grader—I remember being amazed that Coach Wooden was there every day. On the third day, my parents were running late dropping me off. At 9:05 a.m. the locker room was empty.

I turned a corner, and I ran right into Coach Wooden. He gave me an intimidating stare and said, “Why are you late?”

I said, “Coach, my mom just had a baby.” It wasn’t true, but I had no idea what to say. I was scared to death, and I had to come up with a good excuse.

“A baby?” he said as he patted me on the back. “That’s the best excuse I have ever heard. Now go on and have a great time, and remember the importance of being on time.”


“Remember the importance of being on time.”


What a lesson. Yes, I was wrong, but he handled it with graciousness and used it to teach me a life lesson.

When you studied him from afar, there was a seriousness about him, but in a situation like that, he got a kick out of it and reacted with just the right touch. I will always remember that.

A few years later, I heard they were interviewing young people to be ball boys for the UCLA team. Coach wasn’t part of the interviews, but you could feel him in the process. Some might think this was “just a ball boy” position, but at UCLA it was important that everything was precise. Your hair couldn’t touch your ears; you had to wear a white shirt with blue corduroy pants or slacks. There was a certain protocol that you had to follow, just like the players.

Details, details, details. Every detail was considered, even down to how we conducted ourselves as ball boys.

I’ve had the chance to be around some great coaches, and they all have this attention to detail in common. To be successful year in and year out, you have to make everything make sense to a collection of people with very different personalities and talents. If you look at Bill Walton and the Spurs: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and David Robinson are all strong individuals with strong individual beliefs, but they knew when to put those beliefs aside for the good of the team. Getting that to happen is the beauty of coaching a team sport. Coach Wooden loved that part; you could see and feel it.

Another thing I watched and learned from him was poise. My definition of poise is “calm under pressure,” and it was a big deal to Coach to think calmly when things were a little chaotic. Few people have ever done that better, and it wasn’t some kind of front. He was able to be calm because he was so well prepared. By thinking through situations in advance, he was able to know how he should react. That produced calm.

There are so many ways Coach Wooden impacted who I am today and who I will be tomorrow.

John Wooden’s Leadership LegacyCori Close: It’s About More Than Trophies

Every day, current UCLA women’s basketball coach Cori Close walks by a wall that celebrates Wooden. The inspiration she derives from that wall and the coach’s quotes are more impactful because she spent time learning at Coach Wooden’s knee years ago.

I was an assistant coach at UCLA in 1994, when one of the men’s team assistants, Steve Lavin, reached out and said, “Let’s go see Coach Wooden.” I remember being so excited, but scared, too. The idea of seeing him face to face was intimidating. I tried to make every excuse that I could to avoid going.

I’m glad Steve didn’t let me miss that moment. We walked in and Coach greeted Steve, then looked up and very politely said, “Who are you?” I said, “Hi, I’m Cori.” He stopped, looked at me and asked how I spelled my name. When I sheepishly told him, he said, “I want to show you something.” He walked me around the corner to his den, and there in front of us was a little stool with his great-granddaughter’s name carved in it. He said, “You are the first person I have ever met who spells your name like my great-granddaughter Cori.”

From then on, I joked that he wouldn’t have invited me in if my name was spelled traditionally, C-o-r-e-y. Of course he would have been that gracious no matter how my name was spelled, but that was one of my great early lessons from Coach Wooden: Find a way to connect to everyone. He found a way to make everyone feel comfortable in his presence.

From that point on, I pretty much went back every other Tuesday for the rest of my time as an assistant at UCLA, and then I continued to come back once a month, even after I went to coach at the University of Santa Barbara. That went on for nine straight years. I was just really thankful that he let me in.

“Know who you are. Stick to your principles.”


During our time, I asked him so many questions about our profession. One of the most profound things he taught me was how he made really complicated things very simple. Many of us, myself included, overthink things. Sometimes I’d bring what I thought were problems to him and he’d ask a couple of simple questions, and then ask me, “What are you committed to? Know who you are. Stick to your principles, make choices that are in line with your principles, and deal with the results.”

I remember saying to myself, Can it really be that simple? But in the end I know that is exactly how he became the greatest coach of all time. He knew what he was committed to, and he brought everything back to what he stood for—that became a lesson I aspired to model.

John Wooden’s Leadership Legacy

Another lesson he offered was to not try and be someone else. I sometimes would ask how he would handle something I was dealing with and he would say, “I don’t want you to do it like me; I want you to find what works for you and do that.” Many of us want to find someone successful—mine was John Wooden—and try to copy that person. He said that was a huge mistake. Study their principles, he said, but build your own.

What strikes me most about Coach Wooden was that, besides winning games, what he really did was help build amazing men. We once had a visitor who was part of a charity we supported. I didn’t know who the guy was, but he said to me, “I’ve been married for 38 years because of what Coach Wooden taught me. I have opened three successful businesses because of what he taught me. I have conquered cancer three times because of what he taught me. I even survived the death of my 12-year-old daughter because of the tools that he gave me. I am the man I am because of UCLA Basketball and what Coach Wooden taught me, and you now have this chance to shape young women. I’ll be cheering for you.”

The man was John Vallely, starting guard on two of UCLA’s championship teams, who went on to play two years in the NBA. He shared that Coach stayed invested in him for many, many years after he was no longer playing at UCLA. Lots of coaches talk about staying in touch—John Wooden did it. Coach taught Vallely what true loyalty was. He reminded me it was just not enough to have trophies and win championships; we have to shape others.

John Wooden’s Leadership LegacyNan Wooden: Connect With Others Totally

Nancy Wooden Muehlhausen is one of Wooden’s two children. For the last 25 years of his life, after the passing of his wife, Nellie, Wooden leaned on Nan.

I know I have nothing to compare it to, but it was pretty special having the daddy I had. All of those inspirational quotes you read, all the stories you’ve heard about how he lived his life and worked, I watched it firsthand. If experience is an amazing teacher, I learned from the best.

Maybe the greatest lesson he taught me was the importance of always being gracious, because you never know who you have a chance to influence. After Mother passed away, I became his escort to places, and we did a lot of things together. For years I would get annoyed at him because no matter where we went, people just wouldn’t leave him alone, and he wouldn’t stop it.

Over the years I grew to understand that his connection to people is part of what will remain long after his passing. He was never too big or too busy, and he made people feel special.

Ironically now that he has passed, I get asked to do events as his daughter, and people ask me for a picture. I know that somewhere up there, my daddy is laughing. He’s watching me learn to be as patient as he was, and he’s got to be wondering why it took me so long to wise up. He always said I was a work in progress, and I keep proving him right.

“The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”


This may be true of other people, but in my lifetime I’ve never met anyone like my dad in this way: If you were with my dad, then he was with you totally. His mind wasn’t thinking of other things. He was all ears to them, never impatient. That is a real talent. He really was interested in everybody.

One aspect of Daddy’s life that not everyone got to experience was his sense of humor. I’ll never forget one time, a few years after my mom passed, that he gave a speech at a hotel, and I went with him. We went to check in, and we had made the arrangement to have adjoining rooms.

The manager thought I was his wife and said, “Oh, Coach, it is so great to have you both here. It is going to be wonderful, and I have a really beautiful king-size room for you with a big king-size bed.” So I said, “Oops, hold on a minute. We are supposed to have adjoining rooms.” Daddy stood there, head down and said, “Gosh, she has been mad at me for two weeks. I don’t know when she is going to get over this.”

One of Daddy’s favorite sayings was “the worst thing parents can do for their children are things they should and could do for themselves.” He made it a big point for us to learn how to handle situations early.

On the flip side, he often said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” His love for my mother was unlike anything you can imagine. After she died, he would write love letters to her every month and place them on her side of the bed. We knew, even as kids, that what they had was special.

John Wooden’s Leadership Legacy

He didn’t let anyone read those letters, but I actually found one that was stuck in a book that I brought home. I will never show it to anyone else, but the way he expressed his love for my mother was incredible.

When he was in the hospital for the last time and knew he was going to die, he asked that he get a good shave. He was dying, and he wanted to be shaved because he wanted to look his best when he saw her in heaven.

Related: Words of Wisdom: UCLA Legend John Wooden

Don Yaeger

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Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.
“I grew up in the shadow of UCLA, so I was a huge admirer not only of UCLA but especially of Coach Wooden," Bilas tells SUCCESS. "When I had a chance to meet him, it was a tremendous honor. I don’t think I processed what a gentle soul he was.”
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ESPN analyst and color commentator, and former NBA player
“I think he’s looking down on those guys all the time. I think the effect that he had on their lives, they still think, ‘What would Coach Wooden want me to do?’ And that’s about as good a legacy as you can ever think about having.” —A Game Plan for Life by Don Yaeger
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Head coach of the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and recipient of John R. Wooden award
In 1999, Don Yaeger called Coach John Wooden and asked for his mentoring. That was the start of a 12-year friendship that culminated in the book, A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring, co-written by Don and Coach Wooden. It was published in 2009, the year Coach Wooden turned 99 years old. Don continues to appreciate the lessons he learned from the philosopher, a teacher, and a humble man everyone called “Coach.”
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Keynote speaker, executive coach, New York Times best-selling author and associate editor for Sports Illustrated
“I’m starting my career and I wanted to reach out to great people to see if they would share a moment of their success with a young guy aspiring to be a coach on a collegiate level—at the time I’m a high school coach," Vitale told SUCCESS. "And I was in awe when I got an answer back from Coach Wooden about simply, just be organized, make things simple, and have within you that drive and that desire to really set the tone by being a leader for your players.”
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ESPN sportscaster, former NCAA and NBA coach, and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee
“I’m forever thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the UCLA program and, as I say, ride the Wooden Wave," Enberg tells SUCCESS. "I’ve had the privilege of introducing Coach many times, and what do you say about John Robert Wooden? I simply boiled it down to the fact that he’s the greatest man I’ve ever met other than my own father. He’s a man of greatness and a man of goodness.”
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NBC sportscaster and former voice of UCLA men’s basketball
“As a coach [John Wooden] was able to adapt to changing circumstances without bending to every trend, without compromising who he was at his core," Costas said in Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections by John Wooden. "His understanding always went beyond the moment; his thoughts and actions guided by enduring principles.”
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NBC primetime host and 27-time Emmy Award-winning journalist
Al Michaels remembers traveling with the UCLA basketball team to a game one winter weekend, where, after the players practiced and showered, he saw Coach go around the room, feeling each player’s head to see if his hair was dry… because he didn’t want any of his boys to catch a cold. “It tickled me so much. I thought, here’s John Wooden, so loved, so admired, so respected by his players, and clearly a man who’s a father figure," Michaels said in How to Be Like Coach Wooden by Pat Williams. "And he’s not only a father figure, but he’s going to be their mother, too.”
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Sportscaster and announcer for the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics and the earthquake-interrupted Game 3 of the 1989 World Series
“He spelled out in detail, even organized it into a pyramid of building blocks, exactly how he achieved his remarkable success. And now, while he is no longer with us physically, he can still speak to us, he can still mentor us, nearly as face-to-face as if he were in front of us right now physically. I cannot overstate how rare, unique and special this is.”
Author, keynote speaker, advisor and former publisher of SUCCESS magazine
“John was one of the first of all the people in this great city (Los Angeles) that I ever had the pleasure of meeting,” Scully said at the unveiling of Wooden’s commemorative statue at UCLA. “As the years went by, I realized he has more than just opened the gate for other people. He is not a coach, he is more than a teacher—he really is a genius in his ability to inspire. I think there are a few giants that walk amongst us, and he is certainly one of them.”
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“Baseball’s all-time best broadcaster”
Sinegal was known to implement John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success as a leadership guide within his organization. He praised the wisdom offered in Coach’s 2005 book, Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization. “'Competitive Greatness' is our goal and that of any successful organization. Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is where it all starts.”
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Co-founder and former CEO of Costco
Myers, a member of the 1995 championship Bruins team, met with Coach Wooden for weekly lunches. Years later when Myers became Golden State Warriors GM, he kept Wooden's wisdom close at hand by saving 'Woodenisms' in his phone. “Wooden had always said ‘luck is when preparation meets opportunity.’ So maybe my whole life I was preparing to be a hard worker so I could have that opportunity at UCLA,” Myers told the Los Angeles Daily News.
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Former UCLA basketball player and general manager of the Golden State Warriors
In a 2013 TED Talk, Gates said teachers, like athletes, need their Vince Lombardi or John Wooden for feedback and mentorship. He long admired Wooden's philosophies. Years earlier, Gates invited Wooden to speak to Microsoft employees at their Seattle headquarters in 1995. Later that day, Gates and Wooden (retired from coaching) attended UCLA’s Final Four championship game, and met afterward at Gates’ home.
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Co-founder and former CEO of Microsoft
Dobson interviewed Wooden about the keys to success on his radio show, Family Talk, where Coach was a guest for the Timeless Wisdom episodes. On Wooden, “His memorable mottos, unforgettable turns of phrase and timeless, sage advice have enriched countless lives,” Dobson said.
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Author, psychologist and founder of Focus on the Family
“I’ll never forget the day I got SUCCESS magazine, and I opened to the middle of it, and there was the Pyramid of Success. I cut it out, and I taped the Pyramid of Success on the side of my filing cabinet so that every day while I would work, I could look over and I could see it.”
Leadership expert, speaker and best-selling author
“For years, Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been privileged to be associated with Coach John Wooden. He has been one of FCA’s cornerstone coaches, and each year we honor[ed] him during the NCAA Men’s Final Four Legends of the Harwood Breakfast by presenting an award in his name. Coach exemplifies FCA’s core values of integrity, serving, teamwork and excellence,” he said in Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success by John Wooden and Jay Carty.
Former NFL coach, president and CEO of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Blanchard, a former college basketball player and college assistant coach, met Wooden at a Long Beach State University leadership luncheon after Wooden had turned 85. “Wooden was a gentle, humble man, but he was also a stickler for principles that he considered important,” Blanchard said of that meeting.
Co-founder and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of The One Minute Manager
When Matthew McConaughey played a coach in the movie We Are Marshall, Coach Dale Brown—who called John Wooden his “most significant mentor”—advised him on his role. McConaughey later visited Wooden at his home, where he shared with people his stories and wisdom about the championships he won and his Pyramid of Success.
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Academy Award-winning actor
“Everything I had been able to accomplish in life I owed to this teacher, this old coach. Everything I learned about leadership, which was how I’d been about to succeed in a business that seems to have nothing to do with basketball, I learned from Coach Wooden.”
Former UCLA basketball player, motivational speaker and author of Be Quick—But Don't Hurry: Finding Success in the Teachings of a Lifetime
“Coach John Wooden was a basketball player and coach, but he wasn’t just any coach,” Cathy wrote in a Chick-fil-A leadership blog. “On the first day of basketball practice every year, Coach Wooden would start at the beginning. First, he would instruct his players on how to wear socks. Then, he’d teach them how to tie their shoes.” Cathy, whose leadership values echo Wooden’s values, then asks hypothetically what the beginning looks like for you. “Start there.”
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President and CEO of Chick-fil-A
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referenced one of the qualities from John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success or one of his quotes,” Brees said in his 2014 acceptance speech for the Wooden Citizenship Cup, presented to athletes that best display character, teamwork and citizenship. “I’ve written them down, shared them with teammates, and said it to myself.”
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NFL quarterback for the New Orleans Saints
To prepare for coaching the future NBA superstar, James’ high school basketball coach, Dru Joyce II, “bought every book and tape on basketball he could find: his favorite was The John Wooden Pyramid of Success,” James wrote in Shooting Stars, his 2009 book co-authored with Buzz Bissinger. Joyce mirrored the principles taught by Wooden, and passed those lessons onto his players.
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Cleveland Cavaliers player and three-time NBA champion
“Coach Wooden was the master at getting to what’s next in life,” Walton tells SUCCESS. “He learned from the past, he dreamed about the future, but he lived in the moment, he lived for today. And don’t ever think for a minute that he was teaching basketball. He never talked about basketball, he talked about life.”
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Sportscaster, former UCLA basketball player and former NBA player
Shaquille O’Neal was a part of the 1991 and 1992 Wooden Award All-American Team. O’Neal’s interaction with Coach shows how his influence spread far and wide. One day, Coach Wooden visited Shaq while he was still in college to share his definition of a great player. “The true definition of a great player is how you make your players around you better.”
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Basketball Hall of Famer and four-time NBA champion
“Coach Wooden’s success as a teacher, coach, and a parent are testimony to the wisdom on how he lived his life,” Abdul-Jabbar said at John Wooden’s memorial service. “I really enjoyed his down to earth, genuine concern, and he was so real. I had a lot of great mentors in my life but he looms large.”
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Former UCLA basketball player and six-time NBA champion
During his coaching years, Jackson became interested in Zen philosophy. When Wooden found out about Jackson’s regard for the Zen way, he purchased books on the subject to better understand the philosophy.
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(Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images)
President of the New York Knicks, former Knicks basketball player and former NBA head coach
Joe Torre met with his long-time friend Wooden shortly before his death, who asked him to pass along his best wishes to Jeter, the baseball player Wooden most admired, the New York Daily News reported. “Coach told me how much he appreciates the way I play,” Jeter said. “Coming from him, that really meant a lot. I didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time with him, but every time I did, I appreciated it. I'm very happy I had the opportunity to know him a little bit."
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Former MLB player
“I basically took the way Coach treated me in practice and away from the court and just did the same with my life. The respect, the high expectations, the never giving up. I actually listened to his entire speech on the Pyramid and copied and took notes on exactly what he did and why I thought it was effective. It works really well.”
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Motivational speaker, former UCLA basketball player, and former ABA and NBA player
“I began to realize that all his maxims and the Pyramid was a guide,” Wilkes tells SUCCESS. “I mean whether you played basketball or not. I mean you didn’t even have to be interested in basketball, to relationships, raising family, work, the whole thing. It’s an incredible piece of work that Coach put together.”
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Former UCLA basketball player and four-time NBA champion
“You don’t fully understand Coach’s ability to impact one’s life until you experience him impacting yours. His greatness lies not in what he did; his greatness lies not in what he taught. His greatness lies in who he was, his character, his values, his convictions, his faith.”
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“Well, there’s no question that Coach Wooden has affected where I am today and been a huge part of who I am today,” Meyers Drysdale tells SUCCESS. “It didn’t matter who you were, Coach Wooden gave you his loyalty. That was his character. He would commit to the people that were there and not really change things up.”
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Former UCLA women’s basketball player and basketball Hall of Famer
“I never met him,” La Russa told UCLA after Coach Wooden’s passing. “Meeting him was on the bucket list. Came close a couple times, but never did meet him. Obviously, I’ve read everything about him, so just being selfish and personal, I have regret that I never had an in-person meeting with him. Amazing life.”
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Former St. Louis Cardinals general manager and co-author of One Last Strike
“Coach John Wooden has always been one of my role models. From observing his life and his coaching style, I learned that it is possible to be intensely competitive, to be a winner and a champion, and still be a person of integrity, humility, character and faith. No coach ever won more championships than Coach Wooden, and no one was ever more giving, caring and unassuming than Coach Wooden.” —Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret by Pat Williams
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Senior vice president of the Orlando Magic and co-author of How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons from Basketball’s Greatest Leader
“There’s no question that Coach Wooden’s words and lessons are going to stand the test of time—his words have already outlived him. And that’s a legacy. Just a few people will have the impact that Coach Wooden has had on not just the athletes who he was able to coach, but the coaches who are now in place.”
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Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and former professional baseball catcher
“Coach Wooden was humble," Crum told SUCCESS. "He had no ego. He always believed that you do by example and that if you set the right example, those who are following you will get in line and do it, too. I think his teams reflected that.”
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Former men’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville and assistant coach and basketball player at UCLA
“Like the old adage, anything that has withstood the different decades must mean it’s pretty important and pretty solid," Izzo told SUCCESS. "I think you'll find a lot of what Coach Wooden did is pretty important and pretty solid. Sometimes the world gets so big, we say, ‘What is one guy? Can he make a difference?’ Nelson Mandela did. Muhammad Ali did. In my mind, John Wooden did.”
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Head coach of the Michigan State men’s basketball team and winner of the John R. Wooden award
“What Coach Wooden had done that so impressed me was to pull together his own vision, philosophy and belief system into a detailed plan for winning. Once he had it, he went on, year after year, to build teams that were almost unstoppable.” —Win Forever by Pete Carroll
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Head coach and executive vice president for the Seattle Seahawks and author of Win Forever
“I learned so many lessons from Coach about how to be a coach, which then translated to how to be a better person and leader," Enquist tells SUCCESS. "I think one of the things I loved about what Coach Wooden taught me was the importance of having awareness about yourself and your impact on others.”
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Women’s Sports Foundation
Former UCLA women’s softball player and coach
“Everything Coach Wooden taught and did is what we all still look at today, 41 years later,” Boeheim tells SUCCESS. “There have been a lot of great coaches, but we never talk about other coaches—it always comes back to Coach Wooden. There’s a reason for that: He did things the way we would all like to do them. The basic core principles are really what people admire and look up to today, and it probably will be the same thing 40 years from now.”
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Head men’s basketball coach at Syracuse University and winner of the John R. Wooden Award
“There has been no greater influence on college basketball than Coach Wooden—not just about the game, but the team,” Calhoun told SUCCESS. “In my opinion if he’s not as important as Dr. James Naismith [who invented the game of basketball], he’s right next to him.”
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Former head coach of the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team and winner of the John R. Wooden “Legends of Coaching” Award
“What Coach Wooden’s definition of success did, it made you focus more on the journey, as opposed to the end result. And the journey always lasts much longer than the end result. The journey, the day-to-day grind, the daily grind that it takes to become a winner is what you focus on.”
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Head men’s basketball coach for the University of Washington and winner of the
Coach Wooden
“Keys to Life” Award
“I don’t believe in the word or the concept of failure," Kondos Field tells SUCCESS. "I believe 100 percent in Coach Wooden’s definition of success: Success in life is peace of mind, and that peace of mind comes from knowing you’ve done your best.”
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Head women’s gymnastics coach at UCLA
“I always bring it all back to the Pyramid. I mean for me, whenever I see something or I feel like I’ve learned something new, I can look at the Pyramid and I can draw a parallel to that. That for me kind of keeps you centered.”
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Head coach of Wake Forest University Men’s Basketball and recipient of the John R. Wooden Award for Player of the Year
“Coach Wooden’s style of teaching and correction greatly influenced me as an NFL head coach. I learned quickly that when an athlete has a problem in his or her personal life or on the field, how you correct that athlete becomes important.” —The Greatest Coach Ever
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Former NFL player, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Professional Football Hall of Fame Inductee
“The Pyramid of Success was important to me as a basketball player, one of Coach’s players, but then in life I’ve used it constantly, applying it to my own career as an actor," Bridges tells SUCCESS. "And I’ve passed it on to certainly all my children.”
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Emmy Award-winning actor and former UCLA basketball player
“If I were speaking to a group of people that came to me and said, ‘Coach, who is the best mentor I can send my son to, to give him a chance to be a success in life?’ I’d say ‘You send him to John Wooden and see if he’ll accept you,’” Bowden told SUCCESS.
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Post/Zuma Wire
Former head football coach at Florida State University and College Football Hall of Fame inductee
“The team that the coach was most proud of was the team that didn’t win, but did the best they could, which was the sermon I was giving every time I was managing a team that had no chance to win the championship.”
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Former MLB player, color commentator, National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee and MLB chief baseball officer
“From the first time that I met him, I knew he would be my life’s most significant mentor," Brown told SUCCESS. "John Wooden is a legend in basketball, but more important, he is a legend in serving mankind. He was a master teacher and mentor.”
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Former head coach of the Louisiana State University men’s basketball team and National Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame inductee
“I never heard him talking about the Pyramid of Success in all the time I played for him and coached with him… but that was his philosophy. That’s the way he lived. Not until later in my life did I realize that all these things in the Pyramid, all the blocks, were things that he was teaching us over and over. But he never mentioned it.”
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Former head coach of UCLA men’s basketball and former UCLA men’s assistant basketball coach under Coach Wooden
“But it wasn’t just [Wooden’s] wisdom as a coach that made him so remarkable. He was a man of dignity and integrity. When you looked at him, you saw those traits. The characteristics that are part of the greatest men and women on this planet—he made those come alive with his life.” —A Game Plan for Life by Don Yaeger
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Head coach of the Duke University men’s basketball team, coach of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team and College Basketball Hall of Fame inductee
“I think what makes [Coach] so amazing is he has been so timeless. His principles have stood the test over every sport and every generation. I just think when something works, when it’s truth, then it lives on. That’s why so many of us coaches feel so much responsibility to continue that.” —“Carrying on John Wooden's legacy,” ESPN
Head coach of the University of California-Los Angeles women’s basketball team
“He really defined a philosophy that I believe in, which is worrying about how you play the game. He would go through practices and he wouldn’t even talk about the other team, or what they were doing. He understood the perspective that you have to have if you’re not just a coach but a mentor, and that support group that players need. I think that crosses any line of different sports.” —“Angels' Scioscia recalls time with Wooden,” Pasadena Star-News
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Former MLB player and current manager for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“I had a wonderful upbringing. This is where my life was formed. I first became interested in basketball because my dad taught political science at UCLA during the John Wooden years, which was a great time to be a fan. I was a ball boy in the mid-’70s.” —“Kerr Relives His Palisades Hoop Days,” Palisadian-Post
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Former professional basketball player, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, earning a combined six NBA championships as a player and coach.
“Everybody knows about the wins and the national championships [Coach] won, the players he coached. But the man himself was as humble a man as you’ll ever meet. And to have the success that he had makes you want to be like him, you want to emulate him.” —“Tubby Smith Talks John Wooden Award Honor,” Big 12 Digital Network
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Head coach of the University of Memphis men’s basketball team and John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching award recipient.
When John Wooden died in June 2010, lifelong basketball fan President Obama said in a White House statement recognizing the Coach’s impact, “On and off the court, he never stopped teaching. He never stopped preparing his players and everyone he met to be their best. Despite all the records and the championships, he once said that it wasn’t the tournaments or the games he missed the most, it was the practice and the preparation.”
44th President of the United States
As a former collegiate athlete, Kelly was influenced by Wooden’s heartfelt leadership principles and has led Southwest Airlines with a similar approach of winning his team’s hearts: Work hard, have fun and take care of each other. Writing for the World Economic Forum in collaboration with LinkedIn, Kelly extolled Wooden as an example of great leadership, saying, “You have to be not just willing, but eager, to work harder than anyone else—words from the great UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden.”
Southwest Airlines chairman, president and CEO
Presenting John Wooden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, President 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.”
43rd President of the United States
When Ueberroth accepted the John Wooden Global Leadership Program award in 2011, he told the UCLA audience, “Wooden would explain something to you that is very complicated but he’d give you clarity, and you knew you were in the presence of a very special person.” The program is presented in partnership with the Wooden family, and one leader is honored each year.
Former MLB commissioner, Olympian
“As a former college athlete, I enjoy reading sports-themed books, especially written by the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden,” Roberts told The New York Times. “I often think of one of his quotes: Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Good Morning America anchor, former host of ESPN’s Sportscenter and former college basketball player
Actor and director Tom Hanks found John Wooden’s teachings so transformative, he has explored a movie that would bring the coach’s story to live, the Wooden family tells SUCCESS.
Academy Award-winning actor, comedian and filmmaker
“I learned a lot from Wooden before I got to know him very well. “I used to go watch his practices when we weren’t practicing,” Scates told The Orange County Register. “[After Wooden retired], he was here every day. He would answer his own correspondence. He would bring his own stamps. He didn’t want to use the university’s stamps and his own envelopes and he would answer every fan letter that would come across his desk. He liked to talk about baseball. We just chatted. We became pretty good friends.”
Former UCLA volleyball player, former head coach of the University of California-Los Angeles men’s volleyball team and UCLA Hall of Fame inductee
“I think that says it all about [Wooden]. Talk about a very simple approach, covering the basics from A to Z, but was not a control freak…. I’ve been very fortunate to cross paths with some very cool people. He’s at the very top.” —“Maddon recalls meeting with John Wooden,” Tampa Bay Times
Former head coach of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and current manager of the Chicago Cubs
Pat Summitt, who had the most career wins in NCAA history, used one of Wooden’s core philosophies with her players. “I picked up a saying from the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden: ‘I don’t treat them all the same, but I treat them fairly.’ I asked all our players to achieve the same standard, but I couldn’t ask all of them in the same way.” — Sum it Up by Pat Summitt
Former head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team
Coach John Wooden praised Donahue’s commitment to the UCLA community and was quoted by UCLA Alumni saying: “I believe that a head coach, particularly at UCLA, should be judged by his or her peers within the university community at large as to whether the student-athletes with whom the coach was entrusted become not only excellent athletes but also, and more importantly, better students and better all-around individuals… There is no doubt in my mind that Terry Donahue deserves the recognition of having achieved that very ethereal form of success.”
Former UCLA head football coach
In his farewell speech when he stepped down as New York Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin said: “You see these gentlemen here in the crowd that have played for this organization, they represent what I’m talking about. Not just winners on the field, but better yet winners in life, people you can be proud of. You’d like these people for your next-door neighbor. John Wooden said, ‘Reputation is what people think of you, character is who you really are.’ Character. We try to develop the character of each man who walked through these doors. Character is what endures.”
Former New York Giants head coach and author of Earn the Right to Win
“Coach Wooden was great through the years in coaching and speaking, I spoke with him a few times after my first year in the pros and it’s amazing how much he knew about basketball,” he said to NewsOK.
Former UCLA basketball player and Oklahoma City Thunder player
“I’ve read his books, and I’ve been a fan of Coach for a long time,” Bryant told ESPN upon Wooden’s death in 2010. “His legacy is unmatched. It’s unreal. You talk to players that played for him, they all say he has made them better people, aside from basketball. Just them as people, he’s helped them be better. That’s the true testimony to his legacy.”
Former Los Angeles Laker and five-time NBA champion
“I have always admired John Wooden, not only for his success on the basketball court, but also for his success in creating a legacy of excellence and integrity,” Robinson wrote in the foreword of Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success. “John Wooden is remembered for his teaching ability. They didn’t call him ‘Coach’ for nothing. His Pyramid of Success has been the cornerstone of his teaching for many years.”
Former NBA player and two-time NBA champion
“John Wooden was a rock star to me growing up,” Love wrote about meeting Wooden for the first time in The Players Tribune. “Coach didn’t want to talk about basketball, or about himself. Instead, he wanted to know about my character, my friends, my family, and what interested me outside of sports. Coach Wooden may have been in his later years, but he could still run circles around you with his wit and intellect.”
Former UCLA basketball player and Cleveland Cavaliers player
“I learned after I started playing for Coach Wooden that we never were concerned with whom our opponent was,” Warren told Indiana Basketball History Magazine. “He believed that if we prepared ourselves to the best of our ability, we’d win a lot more games than we’d lose. ‘Failure to prepare is preparing to fail’ was almost his daily mantra.”
Actor and former UCLA basketball player
While NBA player Stephen Curry and John Wooden never crossed paths, the All-Star point guard has been the beneficiary of the UCLA Coach’s wisdom through Wooden devotees coach Steve Kerr and Bob Myers, the Golden State Warriors GM who built his team, with Curry among its stars, based on John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.
On Wooden’s response to the challenges of recruiting top high school athletes: “ ‘Dick, if I can give you some advice, stop worrying about what [University of Southern California] is doing and focus on the players you have and doing the best you can do.’ [It was like] getting hit over the head with a sledge hammer.” —“Leadership Lessons from a Winner,” Independent Agent
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Former head coach of the University of California-Los Angeles football team, former NFL head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs
Leslie served as a guest coach for the first annual John Wooden Memorial Celebrity Game. Also, Leslie was honored at the John Wooden Pyramid of Success Awards. "[Coach] was an amazing man who changed the game of basketball, and it was an honor for me to be a part of it,” she told ESPN.
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Former WNBA player and two-time WNBA champion
Although Oz never had the opportunity to meet Coach Wooden, the former collegiate athlete tells SUCCESS he is an enthusiastic fan of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and often quotes the coach’s famous sayings to his family and employees.
Professor of surgery at Columbia University and host of The Dr. Oz Show
“My next guest profiles the extraordinary life and career of a fella, just remarkable in every way: former UCLA basketball coach, the legend John Wooden,” Dobbs said as he introduced Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach’s Life on Lou Dobbs Tonight in January 2014. “I’m partial to Coach Wooden, I got to know him over the years. [He was] the last Division I coach to actually teach a class in any sport. He was something.”
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Host of Lou Dobbs Tonight on Fox Business Network
Coach said his most enjoyable moments while teaching were watching young players improve. One of the players he was greatly impressed with was Doug McIntosh. Even though McIntosh did not a have the same physical ability as others, Coach Wooden was impressed at his focus on fundamentals and efficiency.
Pastor and former UCLA basketball player
In “The Making of a Leader” weekend seminar, Jim Rohn gave listeners a checklist of things to look for in future team members. He described a leadership moment where Coach Wooden used on-the-spot results to find the right player for a certain position. “You know, the great coach John Wooden I’m sure said to the supposedly skilled young basketball player, he says, ‘Sir, can you hit it from the corner? I got to have me a corner man who can hit it from the corner.’ And, well, how are we gonna know if you can hit it from the corner? John says, ‘Well, I’ll just stand here and you just fire away and I’ll count.’ That’s how you finally tell. Just launch a few, and I’ll just, I’ll just keep score here, cause I’ve got to have somebody who can hit it from the corner.”
Late motivational speaker and author
"[Coach Wooden] said pressure is a great thing because one, it means you are there and in the mix. And two, he said, 'embrace it,' so as a young coach I always have kind of taken that approach," she told
Head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, former head women’s soccer coach for the UCLA Bruins