A cup of coffee and apple pie à la mode with Coach Wooden

Coach John Wooden

As I eagerly await the first of two “Final Four” NCAA basketball games, I am again reminded of a special experience I had many years ago when I taught English and coached the varsity basketball team at a boarding school in New England.

My first season as head coach had just ended. The final record was 4-21. For obvious reasons, I decided to attend a  two-day coaches’ clinic in Boston.

At the end of the first day, I returned to the hotel after dinner and saw Coach Wooden seated alone in the coffee shop. He had been the featured speaker earlier in the day. I decided to stop to thank him for sharing so much valuable information about the U.C.L.A. program, one whose teams eventually won ten national championships during his last 12 years as coach.

I introduced myself, we shook hands, and I expressed my appreciation.

“Would you like to join me for some apple pie à la mode?”

“Yes sir, I sure would.”

He asked me how he could be helpful.

“My first year as head coach was a disaster. We need help everywhere with everything.”

For the next 30 minutes, he patiently explained the coaching principles he believed in. I was especially interested in what he called “The Pyramid of Success.”

Eventually, he indicated that it was time for him to call his wife (“I always do that every night when I’m traveling”) and then get some sleep. He insisted on paying. We shook hands. I thanked him for the apple pie a la mode as well as for all I learned from him. I wished him a safe flight home. He wished me and “the boys” success next season. I knew exactly what he meant by “success.”

About two weeks later, I received a packet in the mail that was filled with information about U.C.L.A.’s off-season conditioning, practice schedules, illustrations of offensive and defensive plays, and an autographed copy of Coach Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success.”

I wrote to thank him for the material and then carefully studied all of it.

The week before the school’s first game of the next season, I received a letter from Coach Wooden in which he wished the team well.

He was indeed a great player and then a great coach but I will always remember even more as a great human being with whom I once had the rare privilege of eating pie à la mode while I learned how to become a better teacher and coach, for sure, but also and more importantly, how to become a better person.


Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.