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- Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle
Title: Wooden: A Coach’s Life
Author: Seth Davis
Publisher: Henry Hold and Company / Times Books
“He was, in short, a hard-to-please, detail-obsessed, hyper-organized taskmaster and control freak – which made it all the more jarring when he adopted a hands-off approach during games,” Seth Davis writes in his book about John Wooden, "Wooden: A Coach’s Life."
At six hundred and eight pages, this biography based on the legendary UCLA basketball coach would be enjoyed by enthusiasts, educators, and historians of the sport. Divided into four annual seasons that cover thirty-five chapters, those who loved, played for, coached against, and resented him reminisce about the iconic figure. With some profanity (mostly quoted), included are eight pages of black and white photographs, his coaching record, over thirty pages of notes, acknowledgments, and a thorough index.
Senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Davis spent more than four years compiling and gleaning public and personal information on the positive and negative side of Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood” who led his team to ten NCAA titles and a record eighty-eight game winning streak beginning in the nineteen sixties.
Starting from the determined, self-disciplined child raised by strict Christian parents on their sixty-acre Indiana farm, young Wooden wanted to be a civil engineer. Learning balance in life through a new sport called basket ball, he grew up during the Depression, played at Purdue, became a US Navy lieutenant, and incurred a back injury, changing his vocational path to teaching English at the high school level.
After two years coaching basketball at Indiana State University, he moved his wife and family to sunny California and began a stellar twenty-seven year career instructing famous players such as Alcindor, Allen, Goodrich, Hazzard, Walton, Wicks, and Wilkes in his fast-breaking, zone-press playing style.
The author confirms it obviously was not all fun and games as Wooden arduously drilled his “Pyramid of Success” into his players who, at times, were defiant, disrespectful, and wearisome of his puritanical, disciplinary rules about foot care, haircuts, curfew, and pre-game superstitions. Never known to cuss, drink, or cheat on his wife, Nell, the aloof, hard-headed, and uncompromising coach was verbally abusive to referees, ritualistically referred to his five-by-seven note cards, and fastidiously controlled his players at arm’s length as he gripped a silver cross in his hand.
Written as a beginning-to-end-of-life story, readers quickly understand not only one man’s challenges, accomplishments, and disappointments en route to his rise to fame in the new world of basketball, additionally shared are the era’s racism, hostility among players, and jostling by power-hungry individuals.
Lengthy due to several additional biographies, Davis’s detailed perspective of Wooden’s “goodness gracious, sakes alive” life during an exciting yet tumultuous time in American sports is well-documented, unbiased, and objective, reiterating the prolific coach was a man, not a wizard or saint.
Thanks to Press Box Publicity for furnishing this book in exchange for a review based on the reader’s opinion.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Michael L. Hagood
- Publié sur Amazon.com
I admit to being one who is only compelled to write an Amazon review if I feel that a book is exceptional. As such, few books I read ever impel me to write a review (I would imagine that I am not alone with this tendency). I also am going to write this without having read one word of what someone else has written so to the extent that my views effectively (if not literally) repeat anybody else's already state opinions or observations it is completely inadvertent.
I was motivated to read Seth Davis's book after reading an excerpt in Sports Illustrated before the book was released. The excerpt covered an era (the last part of Lew Alcindor's time at UCLA) in Wooden's career which seemed, on the surface, to be pretty vanilla and benign. To the extent that the piece described a material amount of underlying turmoil beneath that ostensibly calm surface more than piqued my interest, as I presume it did others. Still, I was fearful that the book would not have enough of these interesting (and little known) stories at the expense of a perfunctory regurgitation of the staples of the Wooden legend that the HBO Specials, Bill Walton color commentary and other examples have ingrained into our collective consciousness. Furthermore, I have read several post-career Wooden books (including one compiled by Steve Jamison titled "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court"). To that end, the last thing I was interested in was some detailed breakdown of the Pyramid of Success (which Davis barely refers to) or in the homespun aphorisms or homolies that Bill Walton has only reminded the television viewer of at least 10,000 times (the only one of those that I can remember Davis mentioning in any context is "Be Quick but Don't Hurry"). To be fair, I have relied on a couple of these in my professional career when I observed that one should never "mistake activity for achievement" (when my job devolved into one where I was saying that a lot, I decided to retire). By these comments, I don't mean to denigrate the long-lasting value of these things but they are justifiably part of Wooden's folklore. I just am already well familiar with it and as such, didn't want or need a "Norman Rockwellesque" style rehash of it all.
To my delightful surprise, Seth Davis largely ignores the conventional spiel and has done his own (and OBVIOUSLY VERY EXTENSIVE) research to tell Wooden's story. The number of things that he mentions that are in some conflict with the "pristine" image of the man are too numerous to enumerate, but a couple stand out. First, while many wouldn't be surprised that Wooden worked the refs as relentlessly as any coach that ever lived (without any profanity, of course), many would be surprised that Wooden was one of the worst bench jockeys that ever coached at the college level (Bill Walton said that only Larry Bird could compare to Wooden as a trash talker). As Davis points out, this particular habit earned Wooden a lot of enmity from his fellow coaches and even some journalists who clearly believed that Wooden blatantly crossed a line in a manner that made his otherwise pious demeanor hard to reconcile. Second, even allowing that everyone in a public position has by necessity the impulse to be "political" to some extent, in practice Wooden was more self-serving than most. As an example, it was his former assistant coach Jerry Norman who implored Wooden to employ his full-court press (or 3/4 court press at times) during the Hazzard/Goodrich years which elevated the Bruins to national champion status. To the consternation of those close to the program at times, Wooden gave Norman little public acknowledgement for his role in building the program to elite status.
Fortunately, Davis is far too knowledgeable to believe that Wooden was such a great coach that he could have been just as successful fielding a team with players from Bakersfield whose only other scholarship offer was from Cal State Fullerton. To that end, any one who knows about the Wooden UCLA years will wonder before reading the book just how Davis incorporates the very uncomfortable presence of the almost mythological Sam Gilbert. A lesser biographer might have referenced Gilbert as some unknown lurking force who did some behind the scenes stuff that was probably illegal but hardly consequential (I hope that it goes without saying that it would have been beyond inexcusable to sweep the whole Gilbert story under the rug). Davis not only tackles the Gilbert question, but does it with a thoroughness that is nothing short of stunning. From Gilbert's largely uncontrolled and unambiguously illegal activities (by any NCAA era standard), there is little doubt that in the last decade of Wooden's career, UCLA resembled the 1980s SMU Mustangs (of college football "death penalty" fame) a lot more closely than it ever did Bob Knight's truly squeaky clean programs at Indiana and Texas Tech. While Davis points out that Wooden was uncomfortable with Gilbert's role on the periphery of the program, he stopped far short of demanding that his players run 100 miles an hour in the other direction if they even smelled Gilbert in the immediate vicinity (leaving it all in the hands of his Athletic Director, who had his own forceful personality and unique ways of managing these types of circumstances). Say what you will about Bob Knight (and as a Texas Tech alum, my feelings about the man are mixed); without question, Knight would sent a guy like Gilbert into oblivion in short order if he ever sensed shenanigans of the type that Gilbert routinely performed for the UCLA program. Of course, given the extraordinarily image that he carefully cultivated (and for the most part, justifiably earned) over the years, Wooden's "favorability rating" with the general populace would probably be in the high 90s, while Knight's would be in somewhere near where Bush43's was at the end of this 2nd term. Moreover, while UCLA was getting away with relative murder, the NCAA had their guns so completely focused on the irreverent Jerry Tarkanian in a vendetta like fashion.that it hardly paid the least attention to what was going on (almost out in the open) at UCLA (it was only until a number of years after Wooden retired did they finally to deal with Gilbert). In any event, the utter hypocrisy of the saintly John Wooden completely "looking the other way" while he was racking up championships with his blue-chip players is inescapable.
In terms of the nuts and bolts about what made Wooden such an outstanding coach in his career, Davis offers a respectable amount of reasoning as to what gave Wooden the edge that he had. From the beginning, Wooden's teams played as he did; to wit, with total effort and abandon that was facilitated by superior physical conditioning. Wooden was himself an immensely gifted and ruthlessly competitive individual as a player - as a coach he could identify those players who brought the same qualities to the court. He was astute and flexible enough to learn how to manage different personality types (as well as indulging the better players a slightly different standard when the situation called for it). While not a lot of "x's and o's" are introduced in the context of the description of how Wooden's teams played, there is proper homage paid to the things Wooden was noted for from a fundamentals of basketball standpoint (the aforementioned full court press, the high/low offense and how Wooden mostly relied on a 7 man rotation to play the bulk of minutes in any given game, including blowout wins). Instead, Davis spends more time talking about the overall spirit and morale of his players as they dealt with their coach's approach in running his team. To that end, we learn that even winning teams have morale issues that are always bubbling beneath the surface. Like virtually every great coach, Wooden was largely indifferent to any need to assuage the feelings of his players....indeed, UCLA was so loaded with talented players that any disgruntled athlete could be replaced with someone at least as good if they left. My only significant criticism of this book is that Davis could have delved more as to what Wooden did to get his players to consistently achieve at such a high level. Even considering that he probably had the best players in the country to work with, it still beyond remarkable that Wooden achieved what he did in his final 12 years when he won 10 NCAA championships. As an example, Davis mentions that Wooden admitted to changing how he ran his practices (which were meticulously planned) as the years passed but never reveals what it is that Wooden tweaked. I would imagine that Davis has seen a lot of teams practice so that might have been an area he could have explored more (even if Wooden may himself not have told him much, one would imagine that some of his former players would have offered some opinions concerning this question, particularly those who played professionally or coached themselves such that they were exposed to differing ways of teaching and coaching the game to teams once they were long outside of Wooden's sphere of influence, as it were).
Davis's book starts strong, stays solid and ends even stronger. In fact, the most (by far) poignant (and arguably, most captivating) part of the book is the discussion of Wooden's retirement years. Davis does an exceptionally tasteful job of describing Wooden's very loving marriage so that it is easy to understand the depths of Wooden's depression after his wife Nellie was deceased. Despite the personal tragedy he endured, he was able to continue to travel and have some level of public presence in the intervening. Even the most hard-hearted person will feel good reading about Wooden's reforming relationships with former players who, for whatever reason, reached out to him in his declining years. In many cases, it involved a large number of players who took the opportunity to reconcile with their former distant and demanding coach who they themselves may have not particularly enjoyed playing for during their UCLA years. To the everlasting credit of John Wooden, he accepted every outreach without the slightest hesitation (as well as fastidiously responding to virtually every request that came his way through the US Mail out of a sense of duty). Davis does of an excellent job of letting us understand why Wooden was probably as great of a success as "coach of the world emeritus" as he was the highly successful UCLA coach. If anything, the underlying strength of character which made him such an enduring presence in so many lives beyond his ability to coach winning basketball was far more manifest in his later years. Among other things, we learn that Wooden's love of poetry sustained him through his entire life and was particularly instrumental to the balance he achieved in his life.
In summary, I believe that Seth Davis has written a book that ranks with other extraordinary sports biographies written by such luminaries such as David Maraniss (Vince Lomardi) and the late, great Richard Ben Cramer (Joe DiMaggio). Like Maraniss and Cramer, Davis does an absolutely masterful job of illuminating the paradoxes of his subject's character with the appropriate amount of nuance and without being unfairly judgmental. To that end, he is more than happy to let the reader draw their own interpretations as to the overall character of the person based on the rich anecdotes and relevant context he provides. To that extent, one hopes that he has another book like this in him. While I wouldn't have the first clue as to what other college basketball figure would be this interesting, I also never imagined that John Wooden that I already thought I knew would be this interesting either, his legendary career notwithstanding.