A few minutes ago on ESPN the cameras caught the legendary John Wooden entering Pauley Pavilion to watch tonights game between Arizona and UCLA. As one of the most iconic figures in all of sports, it is easy to singularly define Wooden by his unparalled winning success as a college coach. What struck Young Swole tonight though as he watched Wooden enter the arena were some of the more subtle character traits that the man stands for. Not only did Wooden win at a level never seen, but he stood for everything good in college sports. He not only coached solid players, he also helped develop solid citizens. He didn't merely teach a motion offense, he also taught the life lessons that are needed to be successful on and off the basketball court. And finally, John Wooden coached with a loyalty to his school and his players that is sadly dissapeared from the college game.
It is becoming all too common in college sports to hear of a coach deserting his team for more money or for selfish reasons. Think about college football, with guys like Rich Rodriguez, June Jones or Nick Saban abandoning their teams for their own selfish reasons. Then think of college basketball coaches like Bob Huggins and John Beilein who do the same exact practice. Even in professional sports, coaches ignore loyalty on an almost universal level. The leaders of our sports teams seem in ever increasing numbers not to use their position as an opportunity to create a championship team or to have an impact on their players lives, but only as a leverage point in becoming more famous and making more money.
We hear all the time about how the character of our players has declined over the last couple decades. Today's athlete is considered a greedy thug to most members of society. They don't have a will to win, they only have a will to make money. Players are bemoaned when they switch teams or speak out against their organizations, yet coaches get away with the same crime while inflicting great consequences on their players as well. Think for a second about Ryan Mallett, the freshmen quarterback at Michigan. He went to UM to play for Lloyd Carr, but when Rich Rodriguez took over for Carr, Mallett was basically told he had no future at the school. So in 2007, while Rodriguez will make over 4 million dollars at his new job, Mallett will be forced to sit out an entire season after transferring to Arkansas. Is this really the players fault, or is he simply being punished for the greed and selfishness of a coach we can all agree looks out for no one but himself? Players get the bad rap for being disloyal, but they are merely doing what all players are taught to do, follow their coach and his example.
So here we see John Wooden, the ultimate coach and teacher in college sports. Do you think some of his success may have to do with the fact that he never switched schools to earn a greater paycheck? Or maybe can his success be attributed to the fact that he cared enough for his players to put their self-interest ahead of his own? It could even have been that despite all of his success, he realized that no title is won alone, and that to truly achieve success a team has to trust each other and know that his fellow teammates will be there for him in the difficult times. Young Swole has never spoken to John Wooden and probably never will, but he can still learn from him simply by observing what the man stands for. There may be richer coaches out there, and their may be more famous coaches out there, but there will never be a more successful coach than John Wooden, a man who has always stood for every ideal in sports.