in: Career & Wealth, Leadership, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #434: Legendary Coach John Wooden’s Secrets of Leadership

John Wooden has been called the greatest coach of all time. During his tenure as coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team from 1948 to 1975, he led his team to four undefeated seasons and ten national championships, seven of which happened in consecutive years.

But the funny thing is, winning wasn’t John Wooden’s goal as a coach. That was simply a happy byproduct of the ultimate aim he set for his team both on and off the court —  to perform their very best in whatever they did.

My guest today had the pleasure of working with Coach Wooden while he was still alive on several of Wooden’s books about teaching and leadership. His name is Steve Jamison and today on the show, Steve shares some of Wooden’s best nuggets of wisdom on the pursuit of excellence. We begin our conversation discussing Coach Wooden’s definition of success and why winning wasn’t a part of it. Steve then shares how Wooden was able to impart his vision to his team so effectively through his quiet, but intense court presence. Steve then digs into Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success and why his folksy, almost quaint advice resonates so much with people. We end our conversation discussing how Wooden kept a check on big egos on his teams, and kept success from going to his own head as well.

Show Highlights

  • A few of the unbreakable coaching records of John Wooden
  • How Wooden led quietly 
  • Why winning wasn’t part of Wooden’s definition of success
  • What was the metric that Wooden used when determining effort?
  • How Wooden learned to control his emotions 
  • Some of Wooden’s favorite aphorisms 
  • How he organized his practices down to the minute
  • The Pyramid of Success
  • How did Wooden manage superstars on his team?
  • How did Wooden stay humble amidst all his success?
  • Wooden-like coaches out there today 
  • How Steve’s own life was changed in working with John 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Book cover of "The Essential Wooden" by John Wooden and Steve Jamison.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. John Wooden has been called the greatest coach of all time. During his tenure as coach with the UCLA men’s basketball team from 1948 to 1975, he led his team to four undefeated seasons and 10 national championships, seven of which happened in consecutive years. But the funny thing is, winning wasn’t John Wooden’s goal as a coach. That was simply a happy by-product of the ultimate aim he had for his team, both on and off the court. Perform their very best in whatever they did.

My guest today had the pleasure of working with Coach Wooden while he was still alive on several of Wooden’s books about teaching and leadership. His name is Steve Jamison, and today on the show Steve shares some of Wooden’s best nuggets of wisdom on the pursuit of excellence. We’ll begin our conversation discussing Coach Wooden’s definition of success and why winning wasn’t part of it. Steve then shares who Wooden was able to impart his vision to his team so effectively through his quiet but intense court presence. Steve then digs into Wooden’s famous pyramid of success and why his folksy, almost quaint advice resonates so much with people.

We end our conversation discussing how Wooden kept a check on big egos on his team and kept success from going to his own head as well. This episode is filled with actual, timeless advice. After it’s over, check out the show notes at Steve Jamison, welcome to the show.

Steve Jamison: Happy to talk about John Wooden with you.

Brett McKay: Well, you’ve spent your career writing and working with John Wooden about basically distilling his leadership philosophy, his coaching philosophy. I’m curious, for those who aren’t familiar with him, ’cause he was a phenomenal coach, but some people might not be familiar with him. Give us a thumbnail sketch of his life and career, and what made him such an exceptional leader and coach.

Steve Jamison: Perhaps what sets him apart from every other coach is that record of national championships that he’d accumulated, 10 national championships in 12 years, seven of them in consecutive years. He’s got five or six records that are preposterous. Seven national March Madness championships in a row is one of them, starting in 1967, 1968, 1969, ’70, ’71, 1972, and 1973. Every year a March Madness national championship. 88 straight games in a row, all-time winning streak, Division I basketball, men’s basketball. And again, some of these things are, almost get silly. He has the longest winning streak, he also has the third longest winning streak. 47 games, and in between the University of San Francisco is in second place with 60 straight games. So it’s just one thing after another, including four perfect seasons. So that kind of separates him from the pack. A resume that is historic.

Brett McKay: And I’m curious, how did you connect with him? And how has your life changed because of that relationship you built up with him?

Steve Jamison: In retrospect, it’s almost embarrassing, because I was working on a magazine article that was kind of exploring what top coaches did in their management and their thinking that might apply in business. And John Wooden was nearby, I knew his record was pretty good, but I wasn’t in awe of him. I’m not bragging about it, it was my own stupidity. But he was nearby, and he had won some championships, and I had contacted his publisher, got his phone number, called him up, and he said “Sure, I’d like to talk to you. Come on over. What’s your name again?” So it was a very modest beginning, and from that we did eight books, and many of them were best-sellers. We did a book on leadership, it was a Wall Street Journal best-seller, and a PBS show called “Wooden: Values, Victory, and Peace of Mind.”

But it started out just with this little interview. I spent three hours with him, went home, transcribed it, and read it. And everything that he said was just a gem of wisdom, of leadership, of practicality. And I went back and eventually talked him into doing a book, and the book led to another book, etc. But it was from a very modest beginning.

Brett McKay: Right. So let’s dig into that philosophy, because what impresses me about John Wooden is that, unlike a lot of coaches, or what we think of as a good coach, he didn’t yell, he wasn’t “Rah, rah,” yet he was an effective leader. How did he lead quietly? How was he able to convey to the people he was coaching what he wanted and get them to do that without getting in their face and without the typical “rah, rah” stuff?

Steve Jamison: I think part of it was the fact that as a leader, he had a command presence. And we did, I mentioned, eight books together, and there’s so much material in there, and people have asked me to sort of “Well, distill it.” And I would distill it for you in this way. He knew his stuff. As a leader he was made of the right stuff. And his definition of success was radical. And all of those things go to his command presence, his ability to lead in a … quiet is maybe not the right word, but he certainly was not a screamer and a tantrum guy. It was a very firm hand he had on the controls. He knew his stuff because he had been an all-American at Purdue, he had been an all-state basketball player at Indiana High School, where he went to high school, Martinsville. And at college, at Purdue he had a great coach there.

So he understood the mechanics of basketball and how to teach those mechanics. But it’s that second part, where as a leader he was made of the right stuff. He was a man of integrity. He was a man whose word meant something. He was a man who did what he said. So people, his players particularly, when he said something he meant it. And they knew it. So he didn’t have to jump up and down to get their attention, and he didn’t. But he had a very firm, maybe stern approach to practices and all the rest. When he talked, people listened.

And then the third part of it was his definition of success was radical, because he didn’t mention winning as one of the components of being a success at the highest level. For him, success was all about effort, not about winning. In his world, winning was a by-product or an after-effect, a consequence of true success, which was making the effort 100% to do the best you’re capable of doing.

Brett McKay: Well, there’s a lot to break down there. So let’s go back to his idea of success. So it wasn’t winning games, but he did that in spades, as you talked about in our introduction there. So it was effort. How did he determine … I mean, what was the metric he used, whether a player had given 100% of his effort? What was he looking at?

Steve Jamison: Well, first of all I have to chuckle when you say metric, because in the 15 years I worked with him on a variety of projects, “metric” was never used. But I understand what you’re saying, and he would too. His metric, if you want to apply it to him, was the quality of effort you put forth to bring forth your best. And in the context of the teams, it would be bringing out your best in ways that serve the team. So how do you know if somebody is doing their best? You don’t. And this is the tough part of applying what he says, because you are the only one. He would say this, your boss doesn’t know if you’re doing the best you can do. Your wife, your girlfriend, your dog … maybe your dog does, but you are the only person that can look in the mirror and say that you truly gave all that you had to give.

Well, that kind of leaves the responsibility up to the individual, and if you’re the kind of individual that’s given to fooling yourself, then you’re on a slippery slope. If you look in the mirror and you’re honest with yourself and you can say “I’ve done everything I can do,” whatever the context, basketball or business, to bring out my best, you have succeeded. You are a success. His definition of a success, which if you’ll let me I’ll give you right now, is peace of mind. Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort 100% to become the best you’re capable of being.

That’s a long sentence. What he’s saying is success is trying your best to be your best. And only you know if you’ve done that. So if you are fooling yourself, you’re not gonna achieve the results that you’re after. He called those results, by the way, winning, as I mentioned, is a by-product. Success is in the effort. If that effort produces winning, so be it. Sometimes you’ll do your best and you’ll lose.

Brett McKay: Right. Well, and I’m sure as he worked with his players he gained a grasp of what their best effort was. And you highlight instances where they would win games, and he’d be disappointed in their effort.

Steve Jamison: Right. A good coach can understand what’s going on in front of him. And a lackadaisical effort during a game, for example, you can smell that. But when the dynasty was in the process of rolling, they would play teams that they would beat by 50 points, especially pre-season. And he didn’t look at that score necessarily as indicating they had won. The effort that he smelled, if I can use that word, on the court, what he was seeing, were they putting forth, in his view, the best they had? Even though they might have been ahead by 30 points, that was his gauge, not the final score.

The same thing was done when the game was close. The score was a possible indicator that his team had achieved success in putting forth their best effort. But it wasn’t always the case. I asked him one time “Coach, are you saying that you would rather have a team put forth their best effort and lose than give a second-rate effort and win?” And he kind of looked at me with disdain, because we’d been working together for a while, and he said “Haven’t you been listening? My standard was effort. My standard was how hard you worked to be your best. And if you do that and lose, you have achieved success in my opinion.”

Well, I had set a trap for him. And I said “Ah, can you give me an example where you lost a game of importance and you were happy that your team had achieved success as you define it?” And he pointed to a game, semifinals national championship, 1962. Walt Hazard was on that team, one of the great players in college history and a great NBA player. And they were playing the defending champions. Cincinnati came down the court, they were behind by two points with 30 seconds left. And the team had just had a phenomenal season of cohesion and effort and preparation. They had achieved success, and they had played their hearts out in this game. And Walt Hazard was called for a foul charging.

The press later said it was a phantom foul. He hadn’t charged, the referee saw something that wasn’t there. They lost the game. Afterwards John Wooden went into the locker room and told his team how proud he was of them, and how they had succeeded at the highest level. And that they should walk out of that locker room with their heads held high. And he suggested to me, “There’s an example of a game that had a lot of consequences, we would play in the national championship for the first time if we won. We lost, but that team …” And then he had this wonderful way of showing his pleasure. He said “That team, my, oh, my, how proud I am of that team and what they did.” That’s the best example that I got from him of effort is more important than the final score. Effort is everything.

Brett McKay: So he had an immense control of his emotions. Wooden even said he didn’t like emotionalism. Was this something that he naturally, he just naturally had the ability to control his emotions? Or was this something he had developed throughout his life?

Steve Jamison: He had to develop, he had a temper, and it was a hot temper. When he was a kid he would occasionally end up in fistfights. He talks about one he had with his brother, that his dad caught the two of them fighting and swearing, and gave them a good whipping. In those days you weren’t sent to jail for that kind of behavior. The dad taught him a lesson, though, don’t let your temper get out of hand. Well, it took more than that. John Wooden as a coach occasionally, early on, would let that temper get out of hand. He was a coach at Dayton, Kentucky for two years when he was first coaching, out of Purdue University, and got in a physical altercation with a lineman on the football team, the Dayton, Kentucky Green Devils. A lineman decided he was gonna take a break during calisthenics, and gave Coach Wooden a little sass. They had a physical altercation.

So he had a temper that could flare up, but he recognized early in his coaching that it was getting in the way of performance and progress, and that it was a hindrance. And he eventually compensated to the level where you describe him as quiet, and I would describe him as very intensely controlled. But that temper did get under control, and at one point I asked him how he did it. Maybe we’ve got some tips here for people who have anger management problems. And I said “How did you get the temper under control?” And he said “I just did.” I said “Well, you can’t just say you just did. Did you have some steps or some kind of guidelines or anything?” “No, I just did, I recognized it was getting in my way, and I just got it under control.”

That was as much as I could get from him as to how he did get control of that emotionalism. He was all for emotion, but when emotion tipped over and got out of control, emotionalism he called it, that was when you had a problem. Because you were no longer in control. Performance requires control, and when you’re suddenly all wrought up and out of control, you’re vulnerable. And he did not like being vulnerable as a coach or have his team in a similar situation, where they’re out of control with anger. Or jubilation, as he called it, the exuberance of being ahead or winning. He liked everything to be on a steady keel.

Brett McKay: Another defining feature of Wooden that I like about him is his collection of rules and maxims. I guess, is this something he’s developed all throughout his life? He was always collecting these things?

Steve Jamison: Yes. He was a learner throughout his life, just I guess by inclination, collected ideas on coaching from his coaches, he was a voracious reader. He majored in English in Purdue University and was an honor student. Studied Shakespeare for a couple of quarters, and along the way began collecting these maxims, or aphorisms, that helped him in his own life or would help his team in his coaching. And can I give you a couple of them?

Brett McKay: Yeah, no, please.

Steve Jamison: One that goes really to the heart of his thinking and his own teaching and coaching as a basketball coach was “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” And in basketball, it’s a game of constant motion, you can fool yourself because whistles are blowing, and the feet are running, and the balls are being thrown back and forth during practice. Is anything being accomplished? Don’t mistake activity for achievement. I asked him once a long time ago, 18 years ago, I know the year count because in 2000 he was selected as the greatest coach of the 20th century by various publications, ESPN, Sports Illustrated said he’s the greatest coach in American history.

So I saw him about two months after some of these awards were given, and I said “Hey, congratulations. You’re the coach of the century. How does it feel?” And he said “It’s ridiculous. There is no such thing as coach of the century.” Well, I said “Let me ask you this. A lot of people think you are that. Let me ask you to tell me what you think you were good at. You may not think you were the coach of the century, but you had to be great at something. What, in your mind, were you great at?” And he thought for a second and said “I was, perhaps, as good at organization as anyone coaching in my era.” Now, organization means every minute of a practice, for example, is planned. Every minute. He kept each minute, each three-minute, each five-minute segment on 3X5 cards that he would keep year to year. So he would reference from this year to the next year to the back five years. What did we do in practice? Who did we do it with? Did it help?

This organization made his practices like a Swiss watch. And it goes to his saying, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” His activity was meticulously planned. So there was one that really, I think, goes to who he was and how he did things. But he had all kinds of them. He would tell his players the best way to improve your team is to improve yourself. Discipline yourself. We’re talking about control, self-control on temper. Discipline yourself and others won’t have to. Wonderful, wonderful ideas. Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.

All of them, by the way, are listed in the back of his best-selling first book, “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations On the Court and Off.” One that I like a lot he got from his dad, “Make each day a masterpiece.” And he was really good at that, he made sure that each day had elements of great performance and improvement. Each day he tried to make his own masterpiece. He was something.

Brett McKay: What I love about these maxims is, they’re so … At first blush they appear very folksy and too simple. But the thing is, if you actually put them into practice, they work, which is, I think, why he’s so enduring and timeless.

Steve Jamison: I do too. I think that there was substance to what he was saying and how he was saying it and who he was. One writer, many years ago, said that the secret to John Wooden and his coaching and teaching was his simplicity. And that’s sort of what you’re getting at. He was able to teach in ways that were easily comprehensible. And the mechanics of basketball, he would break down, for example, what you’re supposed to do when you’re under the basket anticipating a rebound. Where your hands are, eyes, balance, feet, the bend in your knees. All of this he would break down, teach, put back together, and all of the elements, when you bring it down to the individual parts of it, are rather easily understood. The same with the maxims that you’re talking about. “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Wonderful.

One of the others that he had, he had a list of ideas from his dad called the seven-point creed. But in there are exhortations to be better, and how to make your life a positive, productive life. Be true to yourself, which is a variation of something in Hamlet, that Polonius said to his son, Laertes. “Be true to yourself.” Help others. Make each day your masterpiece. Make friendship a fine art. There are seven altogether, but when you follow those admonitions, the seven-point creed that his dad offered him over the years, wow. You become an extraordinary person, and John Wooden was extraordinary.

Brett McKay: Yeah, in our family we actually, we have a family meeting once a week. And so my seven-year-old and my four-year-old, every week they recite, I guess Wooden called them the 2X3s, as his dad gave them.

Steve Jamison: Two sets of threes.

Brett McKay: Two sets of three, yeah. Never lie, never steal, never cheat, never whine, never complain, don’t make excuses. That’s become a family tradition in our household.

Steve Jamison: That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Well, what I have found in working, you know, it was a privilege to work with John Wooden. But what I found is so many people love what he said, love what he taught, above basketball. In all of the books that we did, there were no tips specifically on basketball. No tips on how to shoot a free throw. No tips on basketball. It was how to bring out your best in the context of basketball and, as he felt, those ideas that transcended basketball would help make his players better people. And that was really … I know it sounds maybe old-fashioned or corny. That really was his goal. He wanted his players, they could us, as you are with your children, use in their own lives to be better people.

He was a teacher. He never called himself a coach. Others did, but he felt that he was a teacher, and his main objective as a teacher was to help others achieve their personal best. And, as he would tell anyone who asked, if you do that, if you achieve your personal best, make the effort to do the best you’re capable of doing, you’re a success.

Brett McKay: So one thing that he spent, I think, his life working on was the pyramid of success. What was this, and when did he start developing, and what was his goal with this pyramid of success?

Steve Jamison: He started working on the pyramid of success in 1933. And I’ll back up one step. When he began teaching at Kentucky, in Dayton, Kentucky, he was upset that a youngster who worked hard in his English class and got a B would have the parents come into the class after school and complain that their son had failed, or their daughter had failed and gotten a B and had done the best they could do. John wouldn’t listen. Very unhappy with that. And he saw it most visibly in basketball, where someone’s son wouldn’t make the team or would be a sixth player or wouldn’t score a lot of points. They’d come in and say “What’s wrong with my kid, Coach? What’s wrong? He’s not measuring up?” And John Wooden knew that in many instances that youngster had done the best they could do. And they were being judged as failures.

So that was repugnant to him. And so he came up with his definition of success for them, a way of measuring themselves that went to absolute criteria of effort. How hard they worked to bring forth their best. Once he had done that he realized that as a teacher and coach, you needed to show people how to do something. You couldn’t just say “Hey, shoot a free throw.” You needed to show them how to do it, where the chances of success were the highest. The success as he defined it, making the effort 100%.

And he came up, over a period of years, with 15 qualities, personal characteristics that he viewed as fundamental to being the best you can be. He also, and this was very creative, used a pyramid. And each block personified one of those qualities that he felt so important. Hard work, enthusiasm, friendship, cooperation, loyalty, self-control, alertness, on and on. Skill, team spirit, poise. There are 15 wonderful qualities that he viewed as the starting point for the kind of success that he was telling his students and anyone else who cared to listen were fundamental for success at the highest level.

I’ve said to many people, John Wooden had a standard of success that was higher than winning. And that higher standard was the quality of the effort you put forth. And the pyramid of success was a blueprint, a guidebook to how you could go about achieving success. Making that total effort to become the best you’re capable of becoming.

Brett McKay: So I’m curious, throughout his career he coached a lot of big stars. One of the most famous ones was the player that would go on to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And there’s a lot of other stars throughout his career. But at the same time he was able to maintain a team that was team-focused. So how did he do that? How did he manage what could possibly be big egos, so they’re all focused just on the team?

Steve Jamison: Part of his skills, I might call it part of his genius, was to understand human nature and to work with individuals in ways that were positive. He understood that when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was Lewis Alcindor when he joined the UCLA varsity in the 1967 season, that the hard part of the equation would not be coaching Kareem, but rather helping the rest of the players understand Kareem’s role and Kareem’s uniqueness, and to keep the team in balance emotionally and mentally. He would, at press conferences after a game, everybody wanted to ask him questions about Lewis Alcindor. He would say “Before we take any questions, I just want to point out,” and then he would pick a player who didn’t get a lot of attention and say that so-and-so, “Boy, that steal that he made just at the half, that really made a big difference in the whole game.”

He would shine a little of the spotlight on other players who didn’t get it, knowing Kareem would get more than his share, obviously. And in practice he would occasionally lay it on a little hard with the superstar to show that they didn’t get special treatment. He understood he had to work very hard to keep the team in sync and working together, because if it didn’t, it would break apart. He wanted that beautiful team spirit that he talked about. And when he was a grade school basketball player in the little country school in Centerton, when they played on a dirt court, their coach, who was not really the coach, he was the principal of the school. But they had a little basketball team. His coach taught him that the star of the team is the team. Believe it or not that he carried through from grade school all the way to his teachings as a coach in high school and then at Indiana State University for two years, Indiana State Teacher’s College, rather, and then UCLA.

The star of the team is the team. And it’s not Bill Walton and it’s not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Even though the celebrity they achieved, obviously they were the star of the team. But the greater concept is the idea that those superstars need the rest of the team for the team to win. And he had a little way of explaining it when he would meet with the team. And again, he tells this story in “Wooden.” He would describe a team as like a beautiful Grand Prix racing car. And that Grand Prix racing car might have a powerful engine, a spectacularly powerful engine. That would be someone like Lewis Alcindor. But that engine needs a frame, and that frame of the car needs wheels. And the wheels need lug nuts. And he was saying that each of the players that he was talking to had a role. You might just be a lug nut. You might be the 12th player on the team at the end of the bench. But you had a role to play, and if the lug nut comes off, the wheel comes off, and that powerful engine is dysfunctional.

That would be how he would try and … He had all kinds of approaches to work on the self-image of the team that we’re not just backing up the superstar. We’re in this together. And that was part of his magic. He had superstars, I mean, totally crazy big superstars with Lewis Alcindor and Bill Walton. There were other prominent players. But those two particularly, he worked very hard on making the rest of the players understand that the team was the star of the whole process.

Brett McKay: So as we were talking about, he had a phenomenal career. Yet he stayed humble throughout all of it. How was he able to do that?

Steve Jamison: Well, I think that there were two things involved. One was his basic nature. Some of us are gregarious, walk into a room and start shaking hands. He was an introvert by nature. And I think the other part of it was, he was a man of faith. And he read the Bible. He showed me one of his Bibles one time, and it was threadbare, he had read it so much over the decades. But there’s so much in the Bible that goes to this being humble. “Pride goeth before the fall.” “Everyone who is arrogant of heart is an abomination.” Those kinds of phrases stuck with him. They were meaningful to him. And I think it went to his basic nature, which was, he was humble. He was a modest man. He might have been a little bit shy, in fact. And as the fame came about, and as the dynasty was underway being created by him, he just never got caught up in it all.

In fact, it was a distraction. The acclaim, the celebrity, all of it contributed to his retirement in 1975. He just got tired of the bubble that he was in. And there were other reasons. He had some health problems, and his wife, who he loved more than anything, was having health problems. But he also just, the celebrity, the acclaim, the attention was all distasteful to him. So that kind of all went to why he was the same at the beginning as he was at the end. It was unbelievable. When I met him he had been retired for many years, and yet he was like your favorite uncle. There was no sense of “I’m meeting a big shot, I’m meeting a great legend in sports.” He was just as friendly and down-to-earth as you could get, and everybody I have talked to going back to his early days in Martinsville, the people that he knew and coached, say the same thing. He was at the end just as he was in the beginning.

Brett McKay: Do you think he would be just as successful today as a coach as he was back in the ’60s?

Steve Jamison: Well, let me put it to you this way. As I mentioned at the beginning, he won 10 national championships, seven of them in a row. Could he do that again? Well, in 1963 he had not won a national championship, his teams had never played in a national championship game. So at the end of that season, if you had said to anybody, sports writer, or John Wooden, “Do you think you can win 10 national championships in the next 12 years?” Everyone would think it was preposterous. What I’m saying is, if you’d asked somebody back then whether he could do it, the answer would be absolutely not. He did it. Could he do it again? Absolutely not. But who knows?

I’ll tell you this. Good coaching is good coaching. He knew his basketball, he was a modern thinker, he was open to ideas, he was a man that people wanted to follow, they wanted to do what he said, the players. And that’s a pretty effective formula then and now. So you know, it’s a good bar room conversation. Could he do the same as he did then? I don’t know, but he’d be among the best coaches coaching today if he were still at it.

Brett McKay: Are there any Wooden-like coaches or leaders today that you see?

Steve Jamison: Well, this is a good question. I’ll give you the one that always gets mentioned, and rightfully so, is Coach K, Coach Krzyzeski at Duke, has won five national championships. Has the same attitude towards his players, that the players’ lives mean something in addition to what they mean as players. He cares about his guys. But John Wooden told those who asked about this that there were many, there are many coaches, thousands of coaches out there like him. The reason that he gets the attention is because of that record. But when I say “like him,” I mean they have the same values. They teach the same good things. They are concerned about their players after they graduate, and that they do graduate. At the high school level, most coaches and most of the sports, men’s and women. They are in it because they see this coaching as a teaching mechanism to help kids. It’s not just about winning games, that’s obviously a big part of it.

But it’s about helping these student athletes become better people. And I believe the high schools and colleges are full of great coaches like that today. It’s when big money starts to get involved that things change.

Brett McKay: I’m curious, after all this work, working with him for so long, what has been the big change in your own life? Working with him, talking with him, and writing about him?

Steve Jamison: This may sound kind of silly, but one of the biggest things that I’ve come … See, he died 10 years ago, 2008. Increasingly I have come to comprehend how fortunate I was to have worked with him and to have gotten to know him and to become a friend. It was an absolute stroke of great fortune for me that it occurred, because to become a friend or a collaborator or a coworker, assistant to someone of his achievement, and to see how he dealt with it and how he created it, it was simply a stroke of the greatest good fortune. And then along the way you see how a man like him, a man with his credentials, stays humble. He treats everyone the same, whether you’re the boss or a busboy at the restaurant, you get the same good treatment.

He was sincere. He never got caught up in materialism. He made $32,500 the last year he coached. That’s what he was paid for the last five years of his coaching. He had an assistant coach who was coaching at Duke, it was Denny Crum of Louisville, who was making more than Coach Wooden while they were both coaching. He just didn’t get caught up in material items and celebrity. It was all kind of unseemly to him. All that mattered was this teaching, teaching, teaching. And that’s what mattered, maybe that’s why he was so good at it.

Brett McKay: Well, Steve, is there any place people can go to learn more about your work and Coach Wooden?

Steve Jamison: Coach Wooden would be very happy if you were interested in learning a little more about what he did and what he taught. As I said, we did eight books. The one that really is popular and broad-based is this book called “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections.” And then his book on leadership is called “Wooden on Leadership.” And that was best-seller for the Wall Street Journal, and it goes into leadership and his ideas on it. Both are great, great exposes. Expose is the wrong word. Both tell very full stories of what he did, how he did it, what he believed. They’re great reading. He was great.

Brett McKay: Well, Steve Jamison, this has been a great conversation, thanks for coming on.

Steve Jamison: Thank you very much, appreciate your taking some time to talk about Coach John Wooden.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Steve Jamison, he worked with Coach Wooden on several of his books. They’re all available on and bookstores everywhere. The Essential Wooden is out on paperback, it’s fantastic if you want a good overview of Wooden’s philosophy on leadership, teaching, and coaching, pick it up, it’s available on and bookstores. Also, to find out more information about Coach Wooden, go to You can find the pyramid of success there and print it off if you want. Also check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at, and if you enjoy the show or you got something out of it, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member if you think they’d get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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