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Wednesday, October 29, 2008
COACH TO COACH


If Steve Lavin ends up guiding another famed Pac 10 program, he'll owe much to the most famous Pac 10 coach of them all.

Rick Reilly may have a special relationship with the great Coach Wooden, but he's certainly not the only one. Steve Lavin, whose name is being mentioned (here's one) as a candidate for the Arizona job, also shares a great affection for the man. Lavin had a peculiar crossroads with The Wizard: he coached at Purdue, where Wooden was a three-time All-American as a player and then he got to know the coach as a friend and mentor when he went to Westwood in 1991, first as an assistant, and finally as the head coach. Wooden was always a supportive man in the background for Lavin, and remains a model for the man to this day.

We asked Lavin, who coached UCLA to a 145-78 record in seven seasons, what pops in his mind when he thinks of Coach Wooden.

Breakfast "There is Coach Wooden's breakfast of champions. It's coffee, orange juice, eggs, french toast and he is very particular about wanting his bacon extra crispy. I firmly believe Coach's equivalent to Popeye's spinach would be his fairly frequent choice of oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins. I still vividly recall first having breakfast with Coach at a Carrow's restaurant in Tarzana on October 14, 1991 (his birthday).

"Funny thing is, after that impressionable breakfast meeting I found myself eating oatmeal on a more regular basis in the hope that it may increase my coaching prowess. He's 98 years young and still going strong, and you just think, who wouldn't want to follow Coach's model for living right on all fronts including eating oatmeal for daily and life long sustenance?"

Keep It Light "Coach has a really wry sense of humor. He said he loved Bob Newhart's comedic style."

"After becoming Head Coach at UCLA in 1996-97, Coach would often call or write following a big win to extend his congratulations. The thing is, like clockwork, he would sign off with something like, 'We the alumni naturally expect more from the team'. It was his way of playfully needling and letting me know he was aware of the unique standard of excellence that is expected at UCLA. I think it's something that's implicitly understood by every coach who has followed in his big footsteps."

Read Up "The breadth and depth of Coach's knowledge is remarkable. Not just in basketball. He continues to be an avid reader and eternal learner. It's amazing, but in one sit down with Coach he is capable of touching on or quoting Lincoln, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Henry Ford, FDR, Harry Truman, Walter Alston, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Walt Whitman, JFK, and then he'll go into the 2-2-1 full court press, the High Post Offense. And naturally, he often quotes The Bible."
If you're a player at UCLA, this is among the most awe-inspiring moments of your pre-adult years.

Tunes "I remember that he loves the Mills Brothers, and he can literally call up their lyrics on demand. They might have played in Indianapolis the night he was married."

His Model "For years, he would say that he admired Mother Theresa more than any living person and that his favorite American was Abe Lincoln."

The Hands "I also recall that first morning I had breakfast with him, being particularly intrigued by Coach's hands. He exhibited such dexterity handling the silverware, picking up the salt and pepper shaker, grasping his coffee cup. It was odd, there was something about the beauty of observing these 82-year-old hands that had touched the lives of so many. Hands that cradled a basketball as far back as the 1920's. Hands that corrected English papers at South Bend Central High. Hands that wrote love letters and poetry to his sweetheart Nellie when he was serving in the Navy and then still he would write them long after she passed away. They were hands that had masterfully drawn up plays on his clipboard and chalkboard throughout his coaching career."