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In Gratitude for Coach Wooden

Posted on 06/08/10 15 Comments

You can go to many other blogs and website to read about  the late John Wooden’s amazing career as a basketball coach. To find facts like he had four undefeated seasons when no other basketball coach has had more than one. Or that he won ten National Championships and the next closest any other coach has won was four. It is amazing that he did all of that in college basketball, a sport where you can gain or lose your star player every year. In four years you will have no players the same as you do today. Yet John Wooden managed to win seven of these NCCA Championships IN A ROW. From 1967 to 1973 no other team beat a John Wooden coached team. What kind of a super human being would you have to be to be able to inspire that consistency like that from young people?

Back in 2004 I had the great privilege of spending the afternoon with the late John Wooden. He lived in a condo near LA so I called my friend Greg Louganis (who lived near by) to see if he wanted to join John (Blenkey) and I on our visit. It was an afternoon that the three of us still talk about and one I will never forget. John Wooden was 93 years old at the time but as sharp as a tack. He spend the entire afternoon graciously “visiting” with us, but that afternoon provided a lifetime of lessons for the three of us. Mr. Wooden was the most amazing human being I have ever had the privilege to meet. Having been a big fan of his when I played basketball in high school and university, I knew I would be a bit star struck when I saw him so I went prepared with a list of questions.

The questions where a good idea but John Wooden put us all at ease with his modesty and his genuine interest in sharing all that we wanted to know.

An afternoon with John Wooden, a memory to be treasured forever.

Several things stuck out for me about that visit. It was clear he was a man with love for people at his core. His wife Nell had past away almost 20 years earlier but he started every day since then by laying out her clothes on her side of their bed. He was as proud of his players that became teachers and doctors as the ones that went on to make the NBA.  He allowed me to interview him and I took notes, I took pages, here is a snippet of what John shared.


Susan Garrett: In your opinion who is the greatest American of all time?

Coach Wooden: Abraham Lincoln


Susan Garrett: Why?

Coach Wooden: He was a common man with concern for all, he had malice towards no one and charity for all.


Susan Garrett: Greatest asset a coach can have?

Coach Wooden: Consideration for others.


Susan Garrett: What do you see as a key to team unity?

Coach Wooden: Love for one another; consideration for everyone.


Susan Garrett: What are you most intolerant of?

Coach Wooden: Lack of effort.


Susan Garrett: Single most important characteristic of a successful coach:

Coach Wooden: Patience.


Susan Garrett: What lesson do you wish that you had learned earlier in your coaching career?

Coach Wooden: Again, patience.  I didn’t see a middle ground early on with my players, it was always black and white with no room for compromise, everything had to be my way.


Susan Garrett: As a teacher, how can you generate interest in a subject where no interest currently exists within the student?

Coach Wooden: Show an interest in the student. Inspire a flame within him rather than trying to light a flame under him.

Susan Garrett: What is the biggest regret of your life?

Coach Wooden: That I didn’t dance with my wife more. That I should have done more of the things that Nellie wanted to do.  She loved dancing and I didn’t like to dance so I didn’t dance enough with her.  She was always doing things for me but I didn’t do enough things for her.

Great coaches, in my opinion, are great human beings first. Sure there are the odd ego-driven-power-hungry-coaches that don’t fit this bill. They are the ones who have been fortunate enough to have won “the big one” or have had a few winning seasons in a row, but then falter and rarely achieve much afterwards. It is just like dog training, if you get a really gifted dog, even a duffer is going to run with the elite in the sport for a while. But repetitive greatness in coaching, the ability to reproduce a masterpiece time and time again with more than one or two individuals, takes someone who deep down really cares about people and about their success. To steal a line from Jimi Hendrix; those are the coaches who are driven by the power of love rather than the love of power.

There are many great coaches out there, I love to read their stories, I find them inspiring and uplifting — I guess that is why they where such successful coaches in their sports. Here are a few of my favorite coach/authors; John Wooden, Lou Holtz, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Riely, Tony Dungy and Joe Paterno –I have a list of more that I have yet to get to, so if you have a favorite coach/author to add to list, please let me know.

Tomorrow I will share some of John Wooden’s maxims for life.

Today I am grateful for coaches who inspire.


  1. Renee says:
    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 6:38pm

    Susan, thank you so much for sharing this!!!!!!!!! What an awesome afternoon that was!

    In our sport, I guess that yes, the handler is the coach of the dog. 🙂 I hope that we also learn that there is another element also.

    Being a high school teacher, I sometimes feel that I am a “life coach” for my students. And I teach a few agility classes also…and some of the MOST enjoyable times of those is when I get to “coach” my students in agility. I truly enjoy that and am sure you do as well!

    Enjoyed seeing you and your girls this weekend!


  2. Beau's Mom says:
    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 11:14am

    Brad Stevens – Butler University, 2010 NCAA runner up. (Butler lost in a heartbreaker to Duke).


  3. Luna's Mom says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 11:26pm

    Not to get the NC rivalry started—but I would add Dean Smith to the list. Not only what he did for his players–but what he did for fans and for the average Joe/Josie. I am grateful for knowing him many years ago and the help he gave to many.


  4. Tracy Sklenar says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 10:18pm

    Gotta love Coach K, and was lucky enough to get a fews years of first-hand experience with him. And GO DUKE!


  5. Mary M says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 9:25pm

    My father said he had the same regret when my mother passed in Dec.this year —-he said he wished he would have danced with her more (she loved to dance)….made my heart warm to here this in your above post.

    Thanks for sharing your interview, sounds like he was a very kind man.


  6. Nicole says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 8:51pm

    Percy Page and the Edmonton Grads – 1915-1940


  7. Gay says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 8:29pm

    2 FOOTBALL/SOCCER Coaches are my current favourites:

    1. Arsene Wenger, coach of Arsenal in the English Premier League. He inspires me at press conferences and with most quotes I hear from him on how much he supports his players and the real intelligence behind his words (never just says the cliches). A real “player’s” manager, he is known for unearthing talent in newbies and extending careers of veterans. Success by building those around him.

    From wikipedia: Wenger was the first non-British manager to win the Double in England, having done so in 1998 and 2002. In 2004, he became the only manager in FA Premier League history to go through the entire season without defeat. Wenger is widely regarded as one of the world’s best managers after the success he has enjoyed at AS Monaco and Arsenal. He has been dubbed the “miracle worker” by former Arsenal vice chairman David Dein, for his visionary management skills and achievements in football.

    2. Jose Mourinho
    Excellence. Attention to detail.Like Susan says, long term success everywhere he goes and whoever he coaches. He just makes me want to watch and he makes my chin drop every time.


  8. TC says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 5:06pm

    Tampa Bay! (or was… 🙂 …thanks for posting the interview.


  9. Cindy Briggs says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 3:33pm

    ANother GREAT coach – Olympic Dressage Coach, Jane Savoie


  10. Cindy Briggs says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 3:28pm

    And he was/is and inspiration!!


  11. Deb Bogart says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 12:59pm

    Pat Summit. I got to meet her twice when I almost got to play basketball for her. Another truly inspirational person.


  12. Susan Anderson says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 11:49am

    Again Susan, you inspire us to be the best we can be, (teachers or competitors) with wonderful stories like this and sharing your experience with one of the best coaches ever.

    Thank you.


  13. Victoria says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 10:22am

    I hadn’t heard about John Wooden until you wrote of him just now – but he sounds like an amazing person! I see that Lou Holtz is another of your favorites – I too really am amazed by Lou Holtz….so if Coach Wooden is anything like him, it really must have been an amazing experience! What a treat! Thanks for sharing about him.


  14. Marilyn says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 8:27am

    As I started my coaching career, 25 years + of high school field hockey, I wanted to know what made some coaches consistently successful. I read books about Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi, Joe Paterno and Coach Wooden. I was so moved and motivated by how Coach Wooden worked with his players as both participants in the sport but more importantly as participants in life. I decided to follow his path to success. All that you said about him is so true. Caring about the people whom you coach and always looking for ways to help them succeed on the field and in life are such important components to being a good coach. Works in dog agility, too!!!


  15. Jan V says:
    Tuesday, June 8, 2010 at 8:06am

    Pat Summit, Vince Lombardi


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