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October 10, 2003

ODE TO WOODEN

BY DAN GUERRERO, Athletic Director, UCLA

One of John Wooden’s more enduring nicknames is “Wizard of Westwood.” Although employing both geographic and alliterative devices, the nickname fails to capture the essence of this great man. Coach Wooden has never practiced magic or slight of hand. Rather, his “magic” has been nothing more than an unswerving adherence to basic disciplines of hard work, humility and attitude. Maybe the nickname should have been “Wise and Humble Man of Westwood,” a less catchy moniker for sure, but still retaining the alliterative hook, and far more accurate.

When I accepted the UCLA AD position last year, I did so with no small amount of confidence and enthusiasm. After all, UCLA is one of the most revered and successful of all college programs. With a mixture of poise, humility, hope, challenge and bravado, I plunged into it with both barrels. I knew I was getting into something big, but I was ready when I realized how big it really was.

In a job like this, there are precious few people with the experience and perspective to turn to for counsel and discussion. I have been truly blessed, because I have had the opportunity to consult regularly with John Wooden. By the time I started at UCLA last year, John had already completed six decades of college athletics experience, but I have learned that his grasp of contemporary issues remains spot-on up to date.

Venues for my pilgrimages to meet with Coach have been the cozy den of the modest Condo Wooden or his favorite coffee shop in San Fernando Valley. I go not seeking profound secrets of the universe. I go for reasons of clarity, perspective and stimulation, but I also go for reasons of respect, homage and sanctuary.

John possesses a wisdom and an approachability that assures a dependable and steady sounding board. While there has been no singly revolutionary concept or revelation from John, the accumulated exposure to his principles in inspiration, ambition and humbleness have been profoundly helpful to me.
John’s stellar moral fiber is ingrained in his every thought, his every action. He continues to be the proof (the exception?) that reserve, gentlemanliness and class are always in style.

John Wooden has always been a man exactly as you see him. Molded and defined by his Midwest roots; he has honed and refined his exemplary character ever since. In John’s world there are no quick solutions, no moral relativity, no such thing as “good enough.” This is a man who unceremoniously takes charge with an Abraham Lincolnesque demeanor. A man whose tastes run to vanilla ice cream, big GM vehicles, old-fashioned gentlemanliness and Harry Truman. Coach has never had any problems with accountability, meritocracy and a positive attitude.

What do coaches do when they retire? Some golf, some travel, some occupy the broadcast booth. Not John Wooden. Now he coaches the coaches. And the AD’s too.

I salute John Wooden. He is, and always has been, a tranquil island of understated distinction in a roiling sea of commonplace mediocrity.


[Dan Guerrero was appointed Athletic Director at UCLA in July 2002?? When Dan was playing Little League baseball in Wilmington, CA in the mid 60’s, John Wooden was approaching his 20th year at the helm of UCLA basketball.]