John Wooden - Retirement

'Make Each Day Your Masterpiece' and 'Family, Faith and Friends' were John Robert Wooden's mantras during his 40-year high school and collegiate coaching career.

It was a determined way of life that continued throughout his retirement as well. Consuming Coach Wooden's 35 years of retirement were hard work, speaking engagements, book writing, attending UCLA and Los Angeles sports, social and charity events and spreading the gospel of his 'Pyramid of Success.' Even into his late 90s, Coach Wooden was making public appearances.

As an honor to his record-setting coaching successes, he would become known as 'Coach' to his many faithful friends and followers.

Best Sellers

Coach Wooden's 'Pyramid of Success,' the 15 building blocks to reach Competitive Greatness, can be found on many head coaches' office walls and in the executive suites of corporate giants throughout the U. S. and the World. At the foundation of the Pyramid are traits such as Friendship and Loyalty, leading to Initiative, Skill and Team Spirit and getting to the top with Poise and Confidence that will produce Competitive Greatness.

As an English teacher and coach in high school and as history's greatest collegiate men's basketball head coach, Coach Wooden never preached winning but he always wanted his students and players to 'be at their best at all times.' The 'Pyramid of Success' is based on his statement, "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best, to become the best, that you are capable of becoming."

Steve Jamison, Pat Williams, Don Yaeger, Steve Bisheff, Jay Carty and Andy Hill were several of the authors who wrote books about and with Coach Wooden in the later years of his life. The books of course highlighted his basketball coaching career. But the volumes also told the story about how Coach's life, teachings and philosophies applied not just to the basketball court, but to the workplace and more importantly, to life. Jamison and Coach Wooden co-wrote six bestsellers about Coach's life and perspectives and also collaborated on a series of children's books.

A new Coach Wooden tabletop pictorial book, 'Wooden: Basketball & Beyond/The Official UCLA Retrospective' will be available in bookstores mid October 2011. A contractual agreement between UCLA Athletics, ASUCLA, the Wooden family and Luxury Custom Publishing, 'Wooden: Basketball & Beyond' features many never-before- seen ASUCLA photos spotlighting Coach Wooden's 27-year UCLA men's basketball coaching career. Another book highlight is 'Reflections,' writings from Bruin greats commenting on their relationship with Coach Wooden, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gary Cunningham, Keith Erickson, Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard, Marques Johnson, Jerry Norman, Andre McCarter, Bill Walton, Michael Warren, Sidney Wicks and Jamaal Wilkes. Denny Crum, Dick Enberg, Al Michaels and Richard Hoffer are contributing writers to 'Wooden: Basketball and Beyond.'

Honoring His Name

Coach Wooden's name has been commemorated throughout sports and the business world. In 1977, The Wooden Award was established in cooperation with the Los Angeles Athletic Club and for 34 years has highlighted the nation's top men's and women's college basketball players and coaches. In 1977, the first John Wooden Award was presented to UCLA senior Marques Johnson, who as a sophomore in 1975 helped lead the Bruins to Coach Wooden's 10th and final NCAA Championship.

Also since 1977, the McDonald's All-American High School All-Star Basketball Game awarded the John Wooden Award each season to the Outstanding Player of the Game. Coach Wooden served as McDonald's Advisory Committee Chairman.

In 1994, The John R. Wooden Classic, held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA, began a 17-year run featuring the country's best men's college basketball teams in a doubleheader format. In its first season, Jim Harrick's UCLA Bruins defeated Kentucky 82-81 and would go on to win the 1995 NCAA title. It was the school's 11th national championship, adding to the 10 won by John Wooden coached Bruin squads. UCLA has played in the Wooden Classic on 14 occasions with a 10-4 overall record. The Wooden Classic benefits one of Coach Wooden's favorite charities, Special Olympics Southern California. The John Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis, IN was another basketball doubleheader held in Coach's honor from 2000-09.

On Oct. 14, 2006, on Coach's 96th birthday, the U. S. Post Office in Reseda, CA was officially named 'Coach John Wooden Post Office.'

On June 13, 2008, Los Angeles Times sports columnist T. J. Simers organized an event, 'Scully and Wooden: For the Kids,' that played before a sell-out crowd at the LA Live Nokia Center. With Simers asking the questions, Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully and Coach Wooden spent the evening telling stories about their lives and discussing how they first met as neighbors 50 years ago in Brentwood, CA. The event benefited pediatric cancer research for three Los Angeles hospitals - Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, Children's Hospital Los Angeles and City of Hope.

Four years ago, the UCLA Anderson School of Management began the 'John Wooden Global Leadership Award,' honoring the nation's top business leaders - 2008/Howard Schultz, chairman, CEO and president of Starbucks; 2009/Kenneth Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express and 2010/Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx. The 2011 recipient of the 'John Wooden Global Leadership Award' was Peter Ueberroth, the organizer of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games, commissioner of Major League Baseball (1984-89), past chairman of the U. S. Olympic Committee and chairman of the Contrarian Group, an investment company in Newport Beach, CA. (1)


As during his active coaching years, honors and national awards were continually bestowed upon Coach Wooden in his retirement. In 1984, he was a charter member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame and enshrined into the Indiana State Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 1994 into the GTE/Academic All-America Hall of Fame, and in 2002 he was a charter member of the Pac-10 Hall of Honor.

In 2006, the National Collegiate Athletic Association named Coach Wooden as one of the '100 Most Influential Student-Athletes' in NCAA history (No. 1, UCLA's Jackie Robinson; No. 2 UCLA's Arthur Ashe; No. 3 Ohio State's Jesse Owens; No. 4 West Point's Dwight D. Eisenhower and No. 5 Purdue's John R. Wooden). Eisenhower and Wooden were born on the same day, separated by 20 years (Eisenhower, Oct. 14, 1890; Wooden, Oct. 14, 1910).

Coach Wooden's name was regularly paired with those who were Presidents of the U.S. In 1995, he was given the Reagan Distinguished American Award; received from the NCAA the Theodore Roosevelt Sportsman Award (1995) and the President's Gerald R. Ford Award (2005); and in 2003 was granted the U. S. Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

On Nov. 19, 2006, Coach Wooden was a charter inductee into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and on May 20, 2008 he was inducted into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum's Court of Honor.

Prior to retirement, Coach Wooden became the first person inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach (1972) and player (1960). As a three-year (1930-32) starting guard at Purdue under head coach Ward 'Piggy' Lambert, Wooden earned All-America and National Player of the Year honors and led the Boilermakers to the 1932 national championship.

In 2000, Coach Wooden was named the Naismith 'Men's College Coach of the 20th Century.' ESPN in 1999 designated him 'The Greatest Coach of the 20th Century', and on July 29, 2009, The Sporting News proclaimed Coach Wooden 'The Greatest Coach of All-Time.'

Commitment to UCLA

Coach Wooden's allegiance to UCLA remained strong throughout his retirement. He would frequently appear on campus for a speaking engagement to the Bruin coaches and staff in the Athletic Department or for a lecture to a UCLA classroom.

In 1983, the John R. Wooden Recreation and Sports Center opened on campus a recreational facility for all Bruin students, staff and faculty. "The only building that will bear my name is a building open to all students and the campus community, not just selected groups," Coach Wooden said.

The Wooden Center has had two expansions since 2001, and the 95,000 square foot venue has 10 racquetball and two squash courts, a coed weight room, a basketball gymnasium with three regulation basketball courts and seating for 2,000 people, a volleyball and badminton gymnasium, a dance studio, a gymnastics training center, a matted room for Judo and Karate classes and numerous meeting rooms. It's also the primary training facility for the UCLA women's and men's volleyball teams and the Bruin women's gymnastics squad.

Several years ago the Bruin Athletic Department established 'The Wooden Academy,' featuring speakers throughout the school year who would address UCLA student-athletes about the importance of Coach Wooden's life and principals. Coach Wooden and Bruin women's basketball great Ann Meyers Drysdale appeared at the first event in 2007.

Since then, other speakers have included UCLA track & field and Olympic heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner Kersee, Bruin football head coaching great Terry Donahue, UCLA track & field/basketball and Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and Andy Hill. Hill played on three (1970/1971/1972) Coach Wooden UCLA NCAA Championship teams and in his professional life became president of CBS Productions. In 2001 Hill and Wooden co-wrote, 'Be Quick, But Don't Hurry.'

Coach enjoyed attending all UCLA sporting events, especially his beloved UCLA men's basketball team and Bruin women's gymnastics meets. In Pauley Pavilion, Coach Wooden's family sat directly behind the UCLA bench, and Coach's seat was section 103B, row two, seat one. Since his death, Coach Wooden's seat will remain empty to honor his memory for as long as Pauley Pavilion is standing.

Wooden led the Bruin men's basketball team to a record 10 NCAA titles, and Valorie Kondos Field has directed the UCLA women's gymnastics squad to six national crowns. But their bond was more than just winning championships.

"If I had to encapsulate all that I have absorbed from my friendship with Coach, it would be to understand that we are constantly learning from others, the good and the bad," she said. "One of the gravest mistakes we can make is to try and be someone else, or to be better than someone else."(1)

For many years, UCLA wanted to name the basketball court in Pauley Pavilion after Coach Wooden. Coach only agreed to the honor when his wife's name was also included and on Dec. 20, 2003, the Pauley hardwood was christened 'Nell and John Wooden Court.' The gymnasium at Martinsville, IN HS, his alma mater, bears Coach Wooden's name and the basketball floor in the Hulman Center at Indiana State University, where he coached from 1946-48, is the 'Nell and John Wooden Court.'

The 'Den'

In 1972, John and Nell Wooden moved into their condominium in Encino, CA. When Coach Wooden retired as the UCLA men's basketball head coach in 1975, his 'Den' became his office and place of work.

Every morning he would start the day at his desk, where he would go through mail, write letters and poetry and autograph thousands upon thousands of pictures, basketballs and books. Throughout his condominium and 'Den,' were books, statues and posters of the two people in World history that Coach Wooden admired most - Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa.

It was where every month, after Nell's death on March 21, 1985, he would write to her a love letter and place it on her side of the bed. John and Nell Wooden were married for 53 years; parents of James Hugh and Nancy Anne with seven grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.

Nell decorated the 'Den', including arranging on the wall Coach's 10 UCLA NCAA Championship team pictures into a pyramid, similar to his international symbol of leadership, the 'Pyramid of Success.'

Following Coach's death, the Wooden family bequeathed his 'Den' to the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, where it can be seen today, looking exactly as it did almost 40 years ago in the Encino condominium. In 1984, Coach Wooden was one of 25 charter members inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.

Together Again

In his 90s, during one of his many appearances, Coach Wooden was asked, "Are you afraid of death?"

His response was, "That's a strange question to ask someone who is in their 90s!" Coach, a man of deep faith, explained that yes, there were times in his life when he feared death. But since the passing of his dear wife Nell, he no longer feared death. Because he knew that upon his own death, he would be joining once again his dearest companion and best friend.

John Wooden left this earth to join his wife Nell on June 4, 2010 at the age of 99 years old. On Oct. 14 of that year, he would have reached the century mark. On the evening of his death, hundreds of UCLA students gathered outside the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to honor Coach Wooden with a Bruin Eight-Clap and a moment of silence.

Final Tribute

UCLA honored Coach Wooden on June 26, 2010 with a memorial service in Pauley Pavilion. Bruin fans from all over the U. S. attended, along with hundreds of Coach's UCLA players and assistants.

NBC sportscaster Al Michaels, who broadcast UCLA men's basketball games on Los Angeles television station KTLA in the mid-70's, was the Master of Ceremonies. Program speakers included three of Coach Wooden's great players - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1967-69), Jamaal Wilkes (1972-74) and Keith Erickson (1963-64-65), along with videos from Vin Scully and CBS broadcaster Dick Enberg. Enberg and Coach became life-long friends during the late 1960s and early 1970s when Enberg broadcast UCLA men's basketball games on KTLA.

During Michaels' introductory comments, he had this to say about Coach Wooden:

"The reason we're here today to celebrate and commemorate the life of Coach Wooden has only a little to do with the national championship banners that ring the rafters of Pauley Pavilion. This day is about celebrating the life of a man who over the course of almost a full century personally touched, inspired and enriched the lives of several thousand men and women, boys and girls. He was a man for all generations.

John Wooden had the ability to say more in one sentence than most of us could in one hour. My favorite Woodenism is: "Never mistake activity for accomplishment."

Today we celebrate a life of extraordinary accomplishment.

(1) - UCLA Magazine, October 2010