John Wooden: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we explore the life and career of John Wooden, arguably the most successful college basketball coach ever. Woden's UCLA teams won many national titles in the 1960s and 1970s.


What does success mean to you? Perhaps it is being the absolute best in your field, or perhaps it is simply the satisfaction of knowing you did the best job you could do. Each of us have to determine for ourselves what success is and the means by which we will measure ourselves in this world.

One man who has been heavily influential--and highly successful--in the sporting world is the late basketball coach John Wooden. Wooden was renowned not only for his own personal successes, but for his philosophy and ability to groom young people for greatness on and off the court. In this lesson, we will explore his life.

Early Life

Wooden was born in 1910 in rural Indiana. He grew up on a farm without electricity or running water, and he often contributed his work ethic to his hardscrabble upbringing. When not helping out on the family farm, Wooden often played basketball with his brothers. That boyhood pastime helped earn Wooden a place at Purdue University, where Wooden won All-American honors as a guard three years in a row.

After graduating with honors from Purdue, Wooden became a high school teacher and high school basketball coach. Wooden took time off from his career and served in the Navy during World War II, but when he returned he took a position as athletic director and basketball coach and Indiana State Teachers College.

Wooden had immediate success with his teams at Indiana State, winning back-to-back conference titles, and his success caught the eye of a collegiate program out west.


In 1948, after two years with Indiana State, Wooden took the head coaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The UCLA basketball program was in a poor state when Wooden arrived, but he had immediate success with his largely positive coaching style focused on teamwork and working hard. He never had a losing season at UCLA.

Wooden's UCLA teams really hit their stride in the 1960s. In the 1963-64 season, UCLA recorded a perfect 30-0 record en route to the NCAA national championship. Wooden's Bruins would repeat as champions next year. After a one-year hiatus from the championship, UCLA began arguably the most dominant stretch in any major college or professional sport. Beginning in 1966-67 season, UCLA won seven straight NCAA titles, going undefeated three times. Their streak was broken in the 1973-74 season, when they lost in the NCAA tournament semifinals to North Carolina State in double overtime. Wooden's UCLA reclaimed the title the following year.

In total, Wooden's UCLA teams in the 1960s and 1970s won 10 national titles in 12 years. At one point the team won 88 games straight, a record which still stands and most believe will never be broken. Near the end of the run, Wooden was inducted as a coach to the College Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor he had already received as a player.


Wooden retired after winning the national championship in 1975 at age 64. Despite no longer coaching, the 'Wizard of Westwood' (as he came to be called) was never far from the game. He remained an important figure and a fixture at UCLA basketball games until his death in 2010 at age 99.

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