Wooden: A Coach's Life by Seth Davis, author of When March Went Mad

Wooden: A Coach's Life by Seth Davis
Pre-order Wooden: A Coach's Life by Seth Davis

Wooden: A Coach's Life
by Seth Davis, Author of When March Went Mad

A provocative and revelatory new biography of the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, by one of America’s top college basketball writers

Listen: Seth Davis introduces Wooden: A Coach's Life

No college basketball coach has ever dominated the sport like John Wooden. His UCLA teams reached unprecedented heights in the 1960s and ’70s capped by a run of ten NCAA championships in twelve seasons and an eighty-eight-game winning streak, records that stand to this day. Wooden also became a renowned motivational speaker and writer, revered for his “Pyramid of Success.”

Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports has written the definitive biography of Wooden, an unflinching portrait that draws on archival research and more than two hundred interviews with players, opponents, coaches, and even Wooden himself. Davis shows how hard Wooden strove for success, from his All-American playing days at Purdue through his early years as a high school and college coach to the glory days at UCLA, only to discover that reaching new heights brought new burdens and frustrations. Davis also reveals how at the pinnacle of his career Wooden found himself on questionable ground with alumni, referees, assistants, and even some of his players. His was a life not only of lessons taught, but also of lessons learned.

Woven into the story as well are the players who powered Wooden’s championship teams – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Walt Hazzard, and others – many of whom speak frankly about their coach. The portrait that emerges from Davis’s remarkable biography is of a man in full, whose life story still resonates today.

Praise for Wooden: A Coach's Life

“This is a superb biography, worthy of its subject. With deep research, clear writing, and objective thinking, Seth Davis has cut through the mythology to present John Wooden and his UCLA dynasty in a fresh and compulsively readable way.”

—David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi

Wooden: A Coach’s Life is a truly remarkable achievement. Seth Davis has produced the most authoritative, comprehensive, and entertaining book ever written on John Wooden. He immerses us in every area of Wooden’s life and provides a detailed and rich picture of this complicated and iconic man. I simply couldn’t put it down. Wooden is a master work.”

—Jay Bilas, ESPN college basketball analyst and author of Toughness

“Relentlessly researched and written with devastating detail and texture, Seth Davis has delivered the definitive biography on the most important figure in college basketball history. There are complexities in the simplicity of Wooden and his UCLA dynasty, and Davis peels back the myths to bring light to the truths. This is Wooden, in full.”

—Adrian Wojnarowski, author of The Miracle of St. Anthony and Yahoo Sports NBA columnist

“Who knew that John Wooden was a pool shark? That’s just one of the many fascinating revelations in Seth Davis’s insightful bio of the man who remains the gold standard for basketball coaches. No one needed humanizing more than the Wizard, and Seth figured out how to do it. Goodness gracious sakes alive (as Wooden would say), this is a terrific book.”

—Jack McCallum, author of the New York Times bestseller Dream Team

“Finally: the definitive biography of this country’s greatest coach. Seth Davis has masterfully captured the real John Wooden: his virtue and genius, but also his pugnacious youth, his contradictions, and yes, his mistakes. If coaches have become self-promoters, herein is a cure: the epic of a modest man. In telling the story of a coach and his game, Davis also renders the American century. What’s more, this book answers the question coaches must ask when they turn off the light: How can I be good?”

—Mark Kriegel, bestselling author of Pistol and Namath

“Wooden has long stood as a giant in the world of college sports. In revealing the real man behind the legend, Davis has done honor to the legacy of a true gentleman.”

Kirkus, (starred review)

“Davis has avoided stultifying, game-by-game details (but does offer genuinely exciting accounts of several key games) and has provided a multidimensional, nearly cradle-to-grave portrait of a highly successful and revered coach and teacher, in the process delivering a history of the evolution of college basketball and profiles of many of its stars.”

Booklist, (starred review)

“Davis paints an unusually rich and illuminating portrait of the coaching mission.”

Publishers Weekly

An Excerpt from Wooden: A Coach's Life

Download this excerpt as a PDF

Prologue
The Den

The first thing you noticed were the books. Big books, little books, picture books, children’s books, art books, religious books, coaching books, sports books, fiction books, science books. Before I walked through the door, they were there to greet me in tall, neat piles in the front hallway. The books were stacked on floors, lined up on tables, piled on desks, jammed into bookcases. The apartment was barely two thousand square feet, yet it seemed that most of it was covered by something that could be read.

John Wooden was careful not to trip over the books as he made his way to his favorite easy chair in the den. Another dozen or so stood on the floor beside the chair, lined up as if on a shelf. The coffee table that sat in front of the television was likewise covered, a source of irritation for a man with a compulsive need for order. “Organization was one of my strengths for a long time, but now just look at that table with all that stuff on it,” he said as he invited me to sit on the couch. I asked Wooden how many of the books in that room he had read. “Maybe half,” he replied. “But I’ve browsed them all.”

It was September 2006. Wooden was not quite ninety-six years old. Even at his advanced age, he was still a student of the world, eager to collect one more crumb of wisdom that he could dispense to the next friend, interviewer, former player, or stranger who came calling. Though his eyes were not as good as they used to be, and though he tired easily, this old widower still turned to books during those rare, quiet hours when he didn’t have a visitor or the phone wasn’t ringing. Besides keeping him company in the present, they also served as a tether to his past, a dog-eared monument to the person who influenced him more than any other: his father, Joshua Hugh Wooden.

Hugh, as he was known, loved reading, both to himself and to his children. Though he did not have any formal education past high school, he was so facile with the English language that when he did crossword puzzles, he invented ways to make them more challenging. “For instance, he’d do it in a spiral form until he’d end up putting the last letter right in the middle of it,” said Billy Wooden, John’s younger brother. After a hard day’s work, Hugh loved nothing more than to sit down, crack open the Bible or another book, and read poetry to his four sons by the light of an oil lamp.

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Seth Davis, senior write at Sports Illustrated, on-air studio analys for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network, and author of Wooden: A Coach's Life and When March Went MadSeth Davis is the author of the New York Times bestseller When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball and the memoir Equinunk, Tell Your Story: My Return to Summer Camp. In 1995, he joined the staff of Sports Illustrated, where he is currently a senior writer. He is also an on-air studio analyst for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network during coverage of college basketball and the NCAA tournament. A graduate of Duke University, he lives with his family in Los Angeles.

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What People are Saying about John Wooden

Seth Davis Visits the John Wooden Den at the UCLA Hall of Fame

Seth Davis visits the UCLA Hall of Fame to meet with Bill Bennett from the UCLA Sports Information Department to check out the near-exact replication of John Wooden's den.

Phil Jackson Recalls The Time He Spent With John Wooden

John Wooden's Mark
On The Waltons

UCLA Coach Ben Howland Opens Up About John Wooden

John Wooden's Career Highlights

Concensus All-Americans Coached by Wooden

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Lew Alcindor

(Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
1967-1969

Henry Bibby

Henry Bibby

1972

Gail Goodrick

Gail Goodrich

1965

Walt Hazzard

Walt Hazzard

1964

Willie Naulls

Willie Naulls

1956

Curtis Rowe

Curtis Rowe

1971

Bill Walton

Bill Walton

1972-1974

Sidney Wicks

Sidney Wicks

1970-1971

Lucius Allen, 1968
Duane Klueh, 1948
Dave Meyers, 1975
Jamaal Wilkes, 1973-1974

Coaching Statistics

Season School Games Wins Losses Win-Loss % Notes
1946-47 Indiana State 25 17 8 .680  
1947-48 Indiana State 34 27 7 .794 runner-up in NAIB Finals
1948-49 UCLA 29 22 7 .759  
1949-50 UCLA 31 24 7 .774 conference champions
1950-51 UCLA 29 19 10 .655  
1951-52 UCLA 31 19 12 .613 conference champions
1952-53 UCLA 24 16 8 .667  
1953-54 UCLA 25 18 7 .720  
1954-55 UCLA 26 21 5 .808  
1955-56 UCLA 28 22 6 .786 conference champions
1956-57 UCLA 26 22 4 .846  
1957-58 UCLA 25 16 10 .615  
1958-59 UCLA 26 16 9 .640  
1959-60 UCLA 26 14 12 .538  
1960-61 UCLA 29 18 8 .692  
1961-62 UCLA 29 18 11 .621 NCAA West Regional Champions
1962-63 UCLA 30 20 9 .690 conference champions
1963-64 UCLA 30 30 0 1.000 NCAA Champions
1964-65 UCLA 26 28 2 .933 NCAA Champions
1965-66 UCLA 30 18 8 .967  
1966-67 UCLA 30 30 0 1.000 NCAA Champions
1967-68 UCLA 30 29 1 .967 NCAA Champions
1968-69 UCLA 30 29 1 .967 NCAA Champions
1969-70 UCLA 30 28 2 .933 NCAA Champions
1970-71 UCLA 30 29 1 .967 NCAA Champions
1971-72 UCLA 30 30 0 1.000 NCAA Champions
1972-73 UCLA 30 30 0 1.000 NCAA Champions
1973-74 UCLA 30 26 4 .867 NCAA West Regional champions
1974-75 UCLA 31 28 3 .903 NCAA Champions
Career Overall 826 664 162 .804  
  Indiana State 59 44 15 .746  
  UCLA 767 620 147 .808  

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UCLA Coach Ben Howland Opens Up About John Wooden

Former UCLA head coach Ben Howland shares his memories of John Wooden. Find out the last conversation he had with the coaching legend before he passed away.

John Wooden's Mark On The Waltons

How did John Wooden impact Luke's life? Hear from Walton on the UCLA legend, his short-lived acting career and earliest memory of meeting The Grateful Dead.

Phil Jackson Recalls The Time He Spent With John WoodenSeth Davis Visits the John Wooden Den at the UCLA Hall of Fame

Phil Jackson reveals how he would change college basketball and recalls time he spent with the late John Wooden.

Seth Davis Visits the John Wooden Den at the UCLA Hall of Fame

Seth Davis visits the UCLA Hall of Fame to meet with Bill Bennett from the UCLA Sports Information Department to check out the near-exact replication of John Wooden's den.

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Seth Davis Visits the John Wooden Den at the UCLA Hall of Fame

Seth Davis visits the UCLA Hall of Fame to meet with Bill Bennett from the UCLA Sports Information Department to check out the near-exact replication of John Wooden's den.