Friday, June 4, 2010

Best Coach Ever -- Knight Vs. Wooden

So if you had to vote on who was the greatest basketball coach of all time between John Wooden and Bob Knight, who would you choose?

Be objective.

Yes, Knight is the all-time leader in major college coaching victories (902), with 662 wins and three national titles coming at Indiana, but when it comes to long-term excellence and dominance, it would be hard to pick anyone besides Wooden, who died at 99 on Friday.

You could mention Wooden’s 10 national championships (no one else is close) or the 88-game winning streak or the words of wisdom -– highlighted by his “pyramid of success” –- that separate him from all the rest.

Here’s how dominant Wooden was. In his final 12 years, ending with the 1975 national championship, his teams were 330-19, including four 30-0 seasons, and those 10 national titles. He finished with 620 wins in 27 seasons.

He won with a full-court pressing, uptempo style that attracted superstar players such as Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton. He demanded extreme fitness to handle that style. He had three etched-in-stone rules -– don’t be late, don’t swear, don’t criticize teammates.

Unlike the colorful Knight, Wooden didn’t swear, although he, like Knight, had no trouble chewing on officials. He would say things such as, “Dadbum it, you saw him double dribble” or “Goodness gracious sakes alive.”

Scary stuff, isn’t it?

Wooden’s “pyramid of success” included enthusiasm, industriousness, patience, faith, loyalty and self control. At the top was competitive greatness.

He would tell players to “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Wooden, by the way, was an imposing player good enough to help lead Purdue to the 1932 national championship. Look at pictures of him in his prime. He was a powerful-looking athlete during an era when almost nobody lifted weights. He was named college player of the year as a senior.

Oh, yes. He also led Martinsville to the Indiana state title in 1927.

In the end, though, Wooden will forever be remembered as a coach’s coach, a teacher gracious with his time, and a man still in love with his wife of 53 years, Nell, his childhood sweetheart, 25 years after her death.

He had many sayings, but here are two that will be true as long as humans exist:

*“Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

*“Don’t give up on your dreams or your dreams will give up on you.”

Dadbum it, that is good stuff.


  1. Coach Wooden was very good at recruiting and evaluating talent, obviously. He could control stars and keep egos in check for the good of the team. He set a good example.

    Coach Knight got more production out of his players in general. With a handful of exceptions, Knight didn't have the superstars that Wooden and now Coach K consistently had on their teams. Knight was not nearly as good an example in many ways, but his passion for winning and success endeared him to many of his players.

  2. Knight built 3 championship teams with entirely different players.If injuries hadn't happened to Scott May 1975, and then Alan Henderson 1993 he would have had at least 5 NCAA Titles and 4 entirely different Championship teams.
    Wooden had carry over players from previous Championship teams with exception to his first Championship.
    Coach K. has done it twice at Duke

  3. I agree that Wooden had the best players year after year, but Knight got the most out of the players that he had. Give Knight the players that Wooden had and he probably could have won the tournament 10 times in a row.

    Of course, they coached during different periods, so it is hard to really compare the two. It would have been great if they had both coached in the Big Ten against each other - like Knight and Keady.

  4. Difference between the two men? Knight curses and throws chairs and Wooden quotes poetry and spouts maxims. Knight demanded his program be run cleanly to the end, even if it meant he got fired. Wooden allowed his program to be dirty and looked the other way because he valued winning more than any of the moral maxims he babbled on about.