Wooden: A Coach’s Life (Book Review)


John Wooden sustains a long and fulfilling life as his coaching career ascends to the top of his profession.  In Wooden:  A Coach’s Life, sportswriter and sportscaster Seth Davis captures captivating facts, takes the reader on a fascinating journey, and tells an amazing story about an icon of American college basketball.

Coach John Wooden guides his UCLA Bruins to the mountaintop of college basketball.  His journey to reach the heights of success do not come easy, and the book’s 525 pages, plus extensive notes and interviews, show how the skilled coach is always working diligently to master his craft.

Benefiting from exhaustive research, Davis presents an in-depth study of Coach Wooden’s life from his youth to the final year of his life.  Former players and assistant coaches provide personal anecdotes about UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, who leads the Bruins to 10 national championships in a 12-year span.

Davis’ engaging storytelling takes the reader from Wooden’s early days of growing up in the Hoosier State of Indiana to his high school team winning the state basketball championship in 1927.  The reader learns of the influence of Hugh Wooden on his young son’s early life.  All of these would be building blocks in propelling John Wooden to even greater accomplishments.

The love of Wooden’s high school years, Nell, would become his sweetheart and life-long companion.  Her unwavering support of her husband begins shortly after Wooden’s All-American basketball career finishes at Purdue.

Does the reader believe in fate?  As one consumes the pages of this book, fate shows up again and again in Wooden’s life.

John Wooden enlists in the Navy during World War II.  He leaves his teaching and coaching post at an Indiana high school, as well as his family, to serve his country.  However, he may not have returned back home alive except for an illness that keeps him off of a naval vessel that would later sink in the Pacific.

Later, Wooden contemplates where to continue his coaching career at the major college level.  In 1948, both Minnesota and UCLA are calling for his services.  Again, fate intervenes.

A storm interrupts the phone lines so that Wooden will never be the coach of the Minnesota team in the Midwest.  Instead, he commits to coaching UCLA on the West Coast while Minnesota waits for the lines to return to working order.  What if Minnesota had been able to contact Wooden first?  One can only imagine what basketball heights may have been scaled by the Golden Gophers in the Big Ten Conference.

There are many other examples of a hidden hand assisting Coach Wooden as he patiently builds his beloved Bruins into an unsurpassed juggernaut.  Wooden toils unselfishly for 15 years at UCLA before his Bruins defeat Duke for their first NCAA championship.

Davis interviews a Hall of Fame roster of former players at UCLA.  Gail Goodrich, Keith Erickson, Walt Hazzard, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamal Wilkes, Bill Walton, and many more bring personal experiences to life as they describe playing for Coach Wooden.  Reading these testimonies from the star players, key role players, and even some who saw very little action, the reader learns much about the strengths and weaknesses of Wooden’s extraordinary years at the Westwood campus of the UCLA.

Seth Davis writes a comprehensive story about Wooden.  He shows an imperfect man facing challenges and pressures in the championship years, overcoming insecurities and mistakes along the way, and dealing with the untimely death of his beloved wife, Nell.  Wooden is at times a very shy man who craves to keep his personal life and family as private as possible.  His competitiveness to succeed and teaching basketball with sound fundamentals are hallmarks of his coaching style.

Published in 2014, Wooden:  A Coach’s Life  allows the reader to witness a former high school English teacher and basketball coach mastering his craft with the patience and meticulousness of an engineer.  Seth Davis moves the story forward with detailed descriptions of the many seasons in Coach Wooden’s career.  The reader sees a coach progressing forward despite numerous setbacks and disappointments until monumental triumphs bring him adoration as he becomes known as the “Wizard of Westwood” (a name that Wooden truly disliked).

To learn more about the author, visit Seth Davis.


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