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R.I.P. John Wooden (1910-2010)

5th June 2010

When the great John Wooden passed away on Friday at the age of 99, he left behind a staggering resume, arguably the most dominant winning legacy of any coach in any sport. Wooden won 10 championships at the helm of the UCLA Bruins during the 1960s and 70s, including an astonishing run of 7 straight titles from 1967-73; in the annals of basketball history, the only coach whose run of dominance is even on par with Wooden’s is his NBA contemporary, Red Auerbach. Of course, Wooden was more than just a great coach — and I’ll leave the kind words about Wooden as a human being (of which there are many) to better writers than I — but I did want to take a statistical look at just how amazing his coaching career was.

Exactly how impressive was Wooden’s run in the 60s and early 70s? One measure of coaching greatness is the ability to resist the “pull of parity” — since a .500 record relentlessly tugs at good teams and bad ones alike, drawing them inexorably toward the mean if given enough seasons, sustained greatness like Wooden’s suggests a significant amount of skill. In the NCAA Tournament era (1939-present), we can quantify the pull of parity on any school thusly:

Expected Win % = 0.235 + 0.552*Previous Season Win %

This means that a team that won 88% of its games last year (for instance, Duke in 2010) should only expect to win 72% of its games next year, because parity wants to drag them toward .500. The assumption we’re going to use is that if Duke ends up winning more than 72% of their games, it would be an indicator of Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching skill.

So back to Coach Wooden… Here’s his career coaching record, alongside his school’s expected Win % every year, and the number of wins by which he exceeded that expectation:

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