John Wooden is generally considered to be the greatest college basketball coach of all time while at UCLA.  His teams won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years.  They also won 620 games in 27 seasons (23 games/year).  They also had four perfect 30-0 seasons.

As great of a coach as he was, John Wooden is perhaps better remembered for the approach he took to coaching.  In a word, John Wooden’s legacy can be summarized with one word:  loyalty.

In the 27 years that he coached at UCLA, John Wooden never asked for a raise.  In his final year (1975), he made $35,000.  He turned down other job offers that would have paid him 10 times what he was paid at UCLA.  He was loyal to UCLA and the players that he recruited.

John Wooden was a disciplinarian and demanding coach.  But he also was very loyal to his players.  Early in his career, he turned down an invitation to play in a national championship tournament because at the time, African Americans were not allowed to play in the tournament.  John Wooden coached at UCLA during a turbulent time on campuses (i.e. Vietnam protests, Civil Rights protests, the death of President Kennedy and his brother, Robert).  His players were often engaged in these issues.  While Coach Wooden often didn’t agree with his players’ views, he supported them for exercising their freedom of speech rights.  The loyalty that Coach Wooden showed his players was reciprocated.  One player commented that if Coach ever asked them to make an appearance at some event, they would go, even if they would have to give up attending a very important event in their own lives.

We think of loyalty being the relationship between people or people and an organization, but loyalty has other dimensions as well.  John Wooden had formed his own principles for life known as the Pyramid of Success and the Seven Point Creed (given to him by his father).  He was very loyal to these principles throughout his life.

He was also very loyal to his values.  He and his wife, Nell, met their freshman year in high school.  They were married when they were 21.  They were married for 52 years when she died.  Every month after she died, John Wooden would visit her grave and write a love letter to her.  The letters were then placed on her pillow at their home.  Loyalty to personal commitments was a strong part of his life.

Loyalty seems old fashioned today.  The loyalty between employer and employee is frayed.  Loyalty between persons is primarily transactional with the connecting thread being “What’s in it for me?”  Values and life principles are rarely a part of any academic curriculum.  Unfortunately, loyalty is often ignored as a key criterion in decision making.  But the fact remains that those who have a strong sense of loyalty to others and their own values are often the most successful.

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“Loyalty means nothing unless it has in its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.” – Woodrow Wilson (U.S. President)

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