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Goodbye, Coach Wooden
June 5, 2010
Written By: Russell Jensen

John Wooden, the legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins, passed away June 4, 2010 at the age of 99. Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including seven in a row. He was married to his high school sweetheart Nell for 53 years before she passed away 25 years ago. He has written her a love letter every day since. Coach Wooden is the author of many books on basketball, mentoring, leadership and life, most famously “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For a Better Life.”

Dear Coach Wooden,
Goodbye and God Bless. And thank you. Your life has been an incredible example of the enormous impact we can have on others. Leadership matters every day, on every level.
We never met, but I’m one of many, many people whose lives you’ve touched, and I just want to send you a brief thank you note. We were introduced by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back in 1969. He was Lew Alcindor when I was growing up in Wisconsin, and I never actually met him either. He played for the Milwaukee Bucks after leaving UCLA, and my interest in him led me to learn about you. I became a fan of you and the Bruins. Loved their style of play, loved the team work, and loved their commitment to one another and to you.
Over the years I think I’ve read just about every article written about you. Some time ago I realized that my appreciation for you had practically nothing to do with your success as a basketball coach, but rather for your wisdom about people, life and faith. Many of the tribute articles being published today upon your passing note your passion for excellence, your loyalty, your grace, your humility and your wisdom. They call you the greatest basketball coach ever, and a better man than coach.
Looking back on it, you’ve touched me in a number of ways over the years. Your best known book, “Pyramid of Success,” has been helpful to me in my role as an executive coach. Many of your famous quotes over the years influenced me as I learned to redefine my perspective as a youth sports coach from “winning matters most” to “builder of young men.” Actually, I still think of you as I work with my executive coaching clients now, reminding myself to coach “both of them," the unique, talented, successful executive they are today, and the even better executive and leader they aspire to become. We’ve used your books in a church men’s group as we work to become better husbands, fathers and men. And your 78 year love affair with Nell humbles and inspires me as I strive to love and serve my own wife better each day.
I don’t collect autographs, but I’ve accumulated a few over the years, mostly by accident or happenstance. Almost all of them have been passed along to my son or my nephew. The only one that is important to me is on the cover of “Coach Wooden One-On-One: Inspiring Conversations on Purpose, Passion and the Pursuit of Success." I think maybe it’s time to dust that off and read it again.
Thanks Coach. Glad you’re finally home. Say hi to Nell for me.

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