You Are Here > SR/College Basketball > CBB Blog > College Basketball Analysis

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

Posted by Neil Paine on June 5, 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:

Year School Conf G W L T WPct xWPct WAE
1947 INDS IND 25 17 8 0 0.680 0.649 0.8
1948 INDS IND 34 27 7 0 0.794 0.610 6.2
1949 UCLA PC10 29 22 7 0 0.759 0.500 7.5
1950 UCLA PC10 31 24 7 0 0.774 0.654 3.7
1951 UCLA PC10 29 19 10 0 0.655 0.662 -0.2
1952 UCLA PC10 31 19 12 0 0.613 0.597 0.5
1953 UCLA PC10 24 16 8 0 0.667 0.573 2.2
1954 UCLA PC10 25 18 7 0 0.720 0.603 2.9
1955 UCLA PC10 26 21 5 0 0.808 0.633 4.6
1956 UCLA PC10 28 22 6 0 0.786 0.681 2.9
1957 UCLA PC10 26 22 4 0 0.846 0.669 4.6
1958 UCLA PC10 26 16 10 0 0.615 0.702 -2.3
1959 UCLA PC10 25 16 9 0 0.640 0.575 1.6
1960 UCLA PC10 26 14 12 0 0.538 0.588 -1.3
1961 UCLA PC10 26 18 8 0 0.692 0.532 4.2
1962 UCLA PC10 29 18 11 0 0.621 0.617 0.1
1963 UCLA PC10 29 20 9 0 0.690 0.578 3.2
1964 UCLA PC10 30 30 0 0 1.000 0.616 11.5
1965 UCLA PC10 30 28 2 0 0.933 0.787 4.4
1966 UCLA PC10 26 18 8 0 0.692 0.750 -1.5
1967 UCLA PC10 30 30 0 0 1.000 0.617 11.5
1968 UCLA PC10 30 29 1 0 0.967 0.787 5.4
1969 UCLA PC10 30 29 1 0 0.967 0.769 5.9
1970 UCLA PC10 30 28 2 0 0.933 0.769 4.9
1971 UCLA PC10 30 29 1 0 0.967 0.750 6.5
1972 UCLA PC10 30 30 0 0 1.000 0.769 6.9
1973 UCLA PC10 30 30 0 0 1.000 0.787 6.4
1974 UCLA PC10 30 26 4 0 0.867 0.787 2.4
1975 UCLA PC10 31 28 3 0 0.903 0.713 5.9

For his career, Wooden eluded the pull of parity by 111.6 wins, which ranks him 6th in the NCAA Tournament era:

Coach TotalG TotalWAE
Dean Smith 1133 129.7
Mike Krzyzewski 1107 127.6
Lute Olson 1060 117.0
Jerry Tarkanian 875 113.8
Adolph Rupp 863 111.6
John Wooden 826 111.6
Bob Knight 1273 108.1
Jim Boeheim 1087 103.9
Jim Calhoun 1121 103.2
Roy Williams 732 103.0
Rick Pitino 749 98.5
Eddie Sutton 1132 97.5
Lefty Driesell 1180 95.6
Lou Henson 1140 88.2
Bob Huggins 776 83.6
John Calipari 580 80.6
John Thompson 835 78.3
Ray Meyer 1078 77.5
Don Haskins 1072 72.0
Rick Majerus 632 71.8
Frank McGuire 785 71.7
Mike Montgomery 824 71.4
Denny Crum 970 71.2
Ralph Miller 1039 69.9
Nolan Richardson 716 65.7
Norm Stewart 963 64.9
Billy Tubbs 926 64.8
Lou Carnesecca 726 64.6
Bill Self 494 62.6
Jack Gardner 721 62.3

He also did it in only 826 career games, which is fewer than any of the coaches around him on the list. If you set a minimum of 500 total games coached, only 2 coaches have kept their teams above the pull of parity on a per-game basis as much as Wooden did:

Coach TotalG TotalWAE WAE/35G
Roy Williams 732 103.0 4.9
John Calipari 580 80.6 4.9
John Wooden 826 111.6 4.7
Rick Pitino 749 98.5 4.6
Jerry Tarkanian 875 113.8 4.6
Adolph Rupp 863 111.6 4.5
Mike Krzyzewski 1107 127.6 4.0
Dean Smith 1133 129.7 4.0
Rick Majerus 632 71.8 4.0
Lute Olson 1060 117.0 3.9
Bob Huggins 776 83.6 3.8
Everett Case 511 51.7 3.5
Tubby Smith 599 58.3 3.4
Jim Boeheim 1087 103.9 3.3
John Thompson 835 78.3 3.3
Jim Calhoun 1121 103.2 3.2
Nolan Richardson 716 65.7 3.2
Frank McGuire 785 71.7 3.2
Lou Carnesecca 726 64.6 3.1
Peck Hickman 626 55.6 3.1

And if you set the cut-off to 800 totals games coached, Wooden is the best of the Tourney era:

Coach TotalG TotalWAE WAE/35G
John Wooden 826 111.6 4.7
Jerry Tarkanian 875 113.8 4.6
Adolph Rupp 863 111.6 4.5
Mike Krzyzewski 1107 127.6 4.0
Dean Smith 1133 129.7 4.0
Lute Olson 1060 117.0 3.9
Jim Boeheim 1087 103.9 3.3
John Thompson 835 78.3 3.3
Jim Calhoun 1121 103.2 3.2
Mike Montgomery 824 71.4 3.0

Furthermore, his sustained run of excellence from 1967-73 was the greatest 7-year period of dominance in the Tourney era:

Coach Start Finish 7yrWAE
John Wooden 1967 1973 52.3
Jerry Tarkanian 1985 1991 48.1
Mike Krzyzewski 1996 2002 47.1
Adolph Rupp 1946 1952 47.0
John Wooden 1964 1970 46.9
Jerry Tarkanian 1986 1992 46.6
Mike Krzyzewski 1998 2004 46.2
Roy Williams 2002 2008 46.0
Rick Pitino 1991 1997 45.7
Mike Krzyzewski 1997 2003 45.7
John Wooden 1963 1969 45.2
Ben Howland 2002 2008 45.1
Adolph Rupp 1945 1951 45.1
John Wooden 1966 1972 44.4
John Wooden 1969 1975 43.7
Jerry Tarkanian 1982 1988 43.6
Jerry Tarkanian 1983 1989 43.6
Roy Williams 2003 2009 43.5
Mike Krzyzewski 1986 1992 43.4
John Wooden 1968 1974 43.2
Jerry Tarkanian 1971 1977 43.1
John Calipari 2002 2008 42.7
Jerry Tarkanian 1984 1990 42.5
Mike Krzyzewski 1995 2001 42.4
Roy Williams 1992 1998 42.2
Adolph Rupp 1944 1950 42.2
Roy Williams 2001 2007 42.2
Rick Pitino 1990 1996 42.1
John Calipari 1990 1996 42.0
John Wooden 1965 1971 41.8
Adolph Rupp 1943 1949 41.8
Billy Tubbs 1982 1988 41.2
Mike Krzyzewski 1999 2005 41.1
Lute Olson 1988 1994 41.1
Mike Krzyzewski 1994 2000 40.9
Everett Case 1947 1953 40.8
Dean Smith 1981 1987 40.7
John Calipari 2003 2009 40.7
Abe Lemons 1972 1978 40.4
Roy Williams 1996 2002 40.3

Truly, basketball lost one of the giants of the game this week, and he will be sorely missed. RIP Coach Wooden.

One Response to “R.I.P. John Wooden (1910-2010)”

  1. Trent Says:

    If something is too good to be true it most likely is. Research the name Sam Gilbert. Key words Sam Gilbert UCLA John Wooden offers plenty of the other side of how his legacy came to be.

    Wooden was probably a great man but a saint he wasnt; at least during his college coaching tenure. We all have our vices and John was no different. His happened to be greed (winning) even if it meant looking the other way. Any other program and coach that mirrored what went on during the Sam Gilbert years at UCLA would be tagged with “lack of institutional control.” The titles may have been tainted but never stripped. The NCAA doesnt like to strip titles usually choosing to vacate wins i.e Memphis. No I am not a Memphis fan. The NCAA waited until Wooden retired to handle Sam and UCLA.

    I do wonder what the NCAA would have done had Memphis won the title. I dont think they would have had to vacate any wins. Kansas played with Arthur who was ineligible so maybe Kansas would have been the one who had to vacate their season. Oh the hypocrisy.. One coach gets anointed the label of doing it the right way while another is labeled dirty when both are playing by the same rules. The media tells us which shade of gray is right.

    As Bill Walton so pointedly said “I took a pay cut when I left UCLA”.

    When coach K. retires from Duke and you write a blog lauding him please omit the phrase “doing it the right way”. Even he has had some shenanigans. I would be remiss not to mention him. He doesnt have to vacate a season of wins nor have a title stipped. Doesnt have any asterisk beside one of his titles. Apparently looking the other way and playing dumb afflicts Coach K too. I guess if so many will buy it you might as well sell it right?

    Media,writers,fans,etc are all color blind when it comes to gray. We,the fans, are told who the good guys are and who are the bad guys. It is abundantly clear one person’s moral compass may not point in the same direction as another’s as far as right and wrong conduct and belief are concerned.

    Neil,I just thought I would at least mention beyond hinting that Mr Wooden had help that he shouldnt have had.