John Wooden passed away this week at age 99. When reporters talked to former players of the greatest college basketball coach of all time, you could feel how much more to them he was than a coach. He was a teacher of some of life’s deepest and most important lessons.
I was lucky enough to have a coach like this. My high school football coach was Jack Davison. He graduated second in his class from Princeton and could have pursued any number of lucrative professions, but instead became a history teacher and football coach. 99% of the players who played for him consider him, after their fathers, the most revered man in their lives. He wore a little cap and football pants with no pads as his everyday coaching uniform. Gruff, incredibly intense, and impeccably fair, his pregame speeches are remembered almost verbatim 25 years later. Emotional roller coasters about teamwork, destiny, focus, and perspective. High school students with virtually no exposure to spirituality had no trouble recognizing that we were in the presence of a true master.
We had a 25th reunion of a championship team a few years ago and he came. He wasn’t even going to speak to the group (“this isn’t about me, ” he said, in the gravelly, humble and wise voice of his) but was convinced to. Starting slowly with his characteristic profound pauses, he gained steam. He didn’t talk about the stars of the team or the victories, but instead about how disappointed he was for the guys that didn’t play much or had gotten hurt. He single out a gutsy team that came a few years after us that had come back from a 0-4 start to finish 5-4. Championships didn’t matter to him, finding your heart did and still does.
Let’s hope there is still a pipeline of John Woodens and Jack Davisons developing in our world. We need them.