John Wooden’s First Year Coaching Did Not Go Well

Sometimes the story behind a person only makes their accomplishments more amazing.

Like with John Wooden.

In 2009, he was named the greatest coach in American sports history, ahead of legends Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant. And yet Wooden’s father taught him to “never try to be better than someone else.”

When receiving the award, Wooden appeared to still take those wise words to heart, saying “No one can really honestly be the very best. No one . . .”

Upon graduating Purdue in 1932, where he was the first player in college hoops to be named a three-time consensus All-American, he passed up a spot on the New York Celtics to marry the love of his life and become a high school English teacher. His first year teaching, he coached the school’s basketball team to a 6-11 losing season.

Yes, Wooden first failed as a high school coach, but he didn’t give up.

He went on to have 11 winning seasons before entering the military.  After World War II and two fantastic years coaching Indiana State, he was offered the coaching position at UCLA, which he accepted knowing the team was considered the weakest in their conference.

The school cared so little about basketball that they didn’t even have a home court. Wooden would hold practices while cheerleaders and wrestlers trained in the same gymnasium. If it became too much of a distraction, he would take his team to the parking lot.

And yet that weak program he inherited won 22 out of 29 games his first season. They won their conference championship the next year.

Wooden believed you can lose when you outscore the other team and you can win when you’re outscored.  What really mattered was whether you played to the best of your ability. This is why he never mentioned winning to his players.

That’s right. The man who put together an 88-game winning streak never asked his players to win.

Wooden hated statistics even though he has some of the best stats of all college basketball coaches. His teams won over 80% of the games they played. He won ten NCAA basketball championships. He coached eleven consensus All-Americans.

This is the type of story we plan to dig up during March Madness to help you feel inspired, not just by the game, but by the remarkable history that accompanies it.

Your bracket may get busted. Your team may get upset. But if you follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, we hope you’ll find our posts will make this year’s big dance a celebration of greatness.


Adam Lucas holds a Finance degree and an MBA from the University of Kentucky. His work has appeared in many major outlets including and