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We Will Always Call Him Coach


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Oct 1, 2010 8:59 AM

Coaches on Coach


Wooden and celebrated former Nebraska football Coach Tom Osborne were good friends for decades. Photo by Joanne Suechika '75.

More even than his won-loss record or his national championships, Coach Wooden's determination to understand how best to coach basketball set him apart. He was a "coach's coach" — a teacher who understood as much about how to coach basketball as he did about basketball itself.

Today his philosophies permeate the profession and, upon his death, dozens of peers — and a few old rivals — have publicly cited his influence. While a compendium of "Coaches on Coach" would fill volumes, we offer here a sampling of thoughts from coaches with a connection to John Wooden.

Steve Alford (New Mexico) and Bruce Weber (Illinois) share Indiana roots with Wooden: Alford's father coached hoops at Coach's alma mater, Martinsville High School, while Weber coached at Purdue, where Wooden played and studied. Weber says he appreciates the loyalty Wooden showed his former players over the years. "We constantly use [Coach Wooden's] thoughts on preparation or patience, or [lessons] from the Pyramid of Success as our 'thought of the day,' " Weber says.

Alford cites Wooden's consistency and way with talent as an influence. "He took the best talent and coached it and kept everyone happy, and that's impressive," Alford says. "Coach Wooden, [former Indiana men's basketball Coach Bob] Knight, [former North Carolina men's basketball Coach Dean] Smith — the giants of our game — got it done over time. They proved their consistency with championship-type play over a long time, and that's really hard to do."

Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, himself a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, says his friendship with Wooden developed after the UCLA coach retired. He recalls how Coach Wooden attended his practices while visiting Durham. "He spoke to our team, and that was very special for all of us," Krzyzewski says. "I've tried to read everything he wrote or was written about him. He was as good as any coach ever at sharing his wisdom for basketball, for life and how the two were intertwined. He probably influenced the lives of more people outside the game of basketball than he did by being an amazing coach."

Coach's influence was felt not only on the hardwood, but also on the gridiron. Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, a Hall of Fame football coach, became friends with Wooden in the '70s. "The thing that I learned from John Wooden that was most helpful was his emphasis on the process, rather than on the bottom line," Osborne recalls. "He always felt that how well you practiced, how well you mastered fundamentals, how well you committed yourself each day were the critical factors. Winning or losing would take care of itself."

— Paul Feinberg '85



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