Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sporting News honors Wooden
LOS ANGELES -- John Wooden's friends, family and former players all say they didn't need an award from a national magazine to confirm the identity of the greatest coach in American sports history.
Yet the Sporting News made it official Wednesday, recognizing the 98-year-old Wooden as the pinnacle of a profession that was redefined by the UCLA coach over his unmatched career in Westwood.
Sporting News Top 50 Coaches
John Wooden finished at the top of a distinguished list of all-time great coaches.
1. John Wooden, college basketball
2. Vince Lombardi, NFL
3. Bear Bryant, college football
4. Phil Jackson, NBA
5. Don Shula, NFL
6. Red Auerbach, NBA
7. Scotty Bowman, NHL
8. Dean Smith, college basketball
9. Casey Stengel, MLB
10. Knute Rockne, college football
11. Pat Summitt, women's college basketball
12. Paul Brown, NFL
13. Joe Paterno, college football
14. George Halas, NFL
15. Chuck Noll, NFL
16. Bob Knight, college basketball
17. Joe Gibbs, NFL
18. Tom Landry, NFL
19. Mike Krzyzewski, college basketball
20. Bill Belichick, NFL
21. Adolph Rupp, college basketball
22. Joe McCarthy, MLB
23. Eddie Robinson, college football
24. Bobby Bowden, college football
25. John McGraw, MLB
26. Bill Walsh, NFL
27. Woody Hayes, college football
28. Connie Mack, MLB
29. Bud Wilkinson, college football
30. Pat Riley, NBA
31. Pete Newell, college basketball
32. Joe Torre, MLB
33. Bill Parcells, NFL
34. Tom Osborne, college football
35. Walter Alston, MLB
36. Bo Schembechler, college football
37. Toe Blake, NHL
38. Sparky Anderson, MLB
39. Al Arbour, NHL
40. Amos Alonzo Stagg, college football
41. Tony La Russa, MLB
42. Geno Auriemma, women's college basketball
43. Dick Irvin, NHL
44. Ara Parseghian, college football
45. Chuck Daly, NBA
46. Bobby Cox, MLB
47. Hank Iba, college basketball
48. Tommy Lasorda, MLB
49. Gregg Popovich, NBA
50. Herb Brooks, NHL
During a luncheon in the John Wooden Room at one of his favorite restaurants in Sherman Oaks, the coach saw the real reward for a life spent teaching, mentoring and improving lives: A room packed to overflowing with the recipients of those lessons, from his daughter, Nan, to current UCLA coach Ben Howland, to former Bruins center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
"I thank you all for the very kind words," Wooden said in a voice altered but not slowed by age. "No one can really honestly be the very best, no one ... [but] these youngsters that have spoken -- and some of them aren't so young anymore -- they're the ones that make the coaches."
Former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi was second behind Wooden, who received 57 first-place votes from a panel of 118 sports experts assembled by Sporting News. Alabama football coach Bear Bryant was third, with the NBA's Phil Jackson and football's Don Shula fifth.
Wooden arrived at the luncheon in a wheelchair after a series of minor health setbacks in recent years, but the coach still has an appetite both for conversation and a hearty lunch. He sat at a table with Howland, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero and former players Abdul-Jabbar, Marques Johnson and Andy Hill, while several other players gathered next to him.
"You get older, your memory gets a little bad, but a lot of other things get worse," Wooden said during a short lapse in his train of thought.
Wooden won 10 national championships at UCLA, winning more than 80 percent of his games over 27 seasons. The Indiana native has been in the Basketball Hall of Fame since 1961, and has kept busy as a speaker and teacher since his retirement from UCLA in 1975.
"It was really very easy, I think, for the people on the panel to vote for this award," said Howland, who has reached three Final Fours in his first six seasons at UCLA. "He was the greatest teacher ever. His integrity, the way he lives his life, is a model for all of us."
Former players Jamaal Wilkes, Ken Heitz, Mike Warren, Lucius Allen and Gary Cunningham, who later became Wooden's assistant, also attended the luncheon. The tall guests frequently left the low chandeliers in the John Wooden Room swaying from accidental contact.
Johnson shared memories of an encounter with Wooden during his freshman year at UCLA, when the coach spotted Johnson shooting pool. Wooden walked up to the table, grabbed the cue and sank eight straight shots, all with a toothpick dangling from his lip.
Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar both pointed out Wooden's influence in their day-to-day habits as well as their overall views of life.
"He has an impact on us, even if we don't want him to," Johnson said, producing a handful of Wooden's favorite white index cards from his jacket pocket. They were inscribed with notes for Johnson's job coaching his 10-year-old's summer league basketball team.
"The enduring thing is that sense of family," Johnson added. "The example that he gave us in that area is one thing that's outlasted all the basketball and all the accolades and everything else."
Wooden's daughter, granddaughter and several of his 13 great-grandchildren also attended the luncheon.
"The most important thing in the world is family and love," Wooden said. "Love is the most important thing in the world. Hate, we should remove from the dictionary. ... They say you never use love in your Pyramid [of Success]. I just say I never thought of it."