The John Wooden Pyramid of Success

The John Wooden Pyramid of Success

5.0 3
by Neville L. Johnson

The John Wooden Pyramid of Success features the words and values of the master: the official Pyramid of Success Lecture, Coach Wooden's favorite maxims, interviews with him about his life and philosophy, and thirty photos of Wooden throughout his life. Wooden is the consummate businessman, who during the last twelve years of his job obtained a


The John Wooden Pyramid of Success features the words and values of the master: the official Pyramid of Success Lecture, Coach Wooden's favorite maxims, interviews with him about his life and philosophy, and thirty photos of Wooden throughout his life. Wooden is the consummate businessman, who during the last twelve years of his job obtained a virtual monopoly on the national title for collegiate basketball. Learn how he did so as the master strategist, psychologist, motivator, and example. Husband, father, friend, educator, poet, athlete, Hoosier, and just plain great guy, Coach Wooden's story and approach to life is an inspiration for all ages. At last, the complete story is told. For the inside story of a true hero in sports and life, this is indispensable and joyous reading. Features original interviews with his family, players, and friends.

"(The Pyramid of Success) is a very effective blueprint for life." --Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Basketball Hall of Famer

"The Pyramid is very simple, very clear, and it makes sense. It's a tremendous motivational tool for self-esteem, personal development." --Walt Hazzard, Olympic Gold Medalist

". . . the greatest teacher of all time . . . I'd take a look at this book. It's a very, very good read. --Jim Rome, national sports broadcaster

"A wonderful book . . . It's a book not only enjoyable for basketball fans but should be shared with kids." --Larry Grossman, ESPN Radio

"Everything anyone could possibly want to know about the UCLA basketball coach. If you're a fan [it's] worth the price . . ." --Larry Stewart, Los Angeles Times

Editorial Reviews

Larry Stewart
A more fitting title would be The Complete Book About John Wooden. Everything that anyone could possibly want to know about the UCLA basketball coach is in this book. If you¹re a Wooden fan, and there are many in these parts, this book is worth the price.
Los Angeles Times
Larry Grossman
A wonderful book. I really enjoyed The John Wooden Pyramid of Success. It¹s book not only enjoyable for basketball fans but should be shared with kids.
ESPN Radio

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Interviews, Recollections, Comments


Malibu, California

Marv is the men's volleyball coach at Pepperdine University and did his doctoral dissertation on Coach Wooden. In 1994, he was voted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame at Holyoke, Massachusetts.

I'd done my master's at USC (University of Southern California) in leadership, cohesion and competitive team success. I went to Brigham Young University mostly because the coach there was going on sabbatical and he talked me into getting my doctorate. I was getting a degree in organizational behavior, motivation psychology and administration. I was trying to prove that A might be better than B in leadership styles within athletics. I was at the point where I was somewhat bored with the process, and it had become circular. I knew what all the research had said and I was basically jumping through the hoops. I went to my chair and I said, "Give me some other avenues."

He said, "Why are you here, what do you want to learn?"
I said, "I would like to learn how the great coaches coach."

We thought of a few designs, and then he said, "You might consider a historical study on somebody like Rockne or Naismith or Wooden."

I didn't want to do a purely historical study. I wanted to know the coaching process. Not the content, the x's and o's of any sport, but the process. I wanted to know his philosophy on every item, on every aspect of coaching and what he did or didn't do and what his assistants did with him to implement his philosophy. I went to the dissertation abstract to see if anybody had done anything on Coach Wooden and there wasn't anything.

I prepared an introductory paragraph or two and introduced myself to Coach Wooden. I had a page to make sure that he knew who was going to be writing this on him and working with him, and also where I wanted to go. He stopped me right off the bat, I couldn't even get through my introduction. He said, "Marv, I know who you are, we met out at the pool at Pepperdine. Congratulations on your national championship. Frankly, to be honest with you, Marvin, I'm honored that someone of your caliber would like to do this on me."

I then proceeded to make up about a hundred items in coaching, perhaps a couple of which were related to basketball. I sat and documented all of his philosophies on tape over several days, had that transcribed, then I met with all his former assistants from 1948-75 and sent out questionnaires to some athletes. Then I wrote John Robert Wooden, The Coaching Process, my dissertation.

It starts for me a little bit further back. Everybody has a John Wooden story. Coach Wooden, excuse me. I would never call him "John." Throughout the sixties, when I was a youngster, I grew up watching UCLA athletics and basketball. For some reason, even when I was in high school, I was watching the coach and the coaches.

When I first started to coach, I was a little bit Marv Wooden, and I found out early on that didn't work. You have to be yourself, and yet you can borrow from others and learn from others. And I think I did. Now there'll be situations, not every day, but hard issues, and I'll say as my standard, "What would Coach Wooden have done in this situation?" Then I'll say that I've taken the right course.

I found out in my short career that sometimes when I get closer to an individual who I have heard or read about, that individual isn't quite as good as I've heard or as I've read. It was 1,000 percent opposite with Coach Wooden. The closer I got, the more awesome he was. "Awesome" is overused I realize, but in his case it's not. When we sat down, I had roughly one hundred items that I wanted him to comment on, and five tapes. By the end of our first day, roughly 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m., we hadn't finished. He hadn't finished answering the second question. I had ninety-eight plus more to go! And I was a full time student, and I just said, "How much time am I going to spend here? How many tapes am I going to have? How much money am I going to have to pay to get these transcribed?" From then on, I would say, "Coach Wooden, could you briefly comment on these things?"

I'm smiling because he really knew it. It wasn't somebody else who did it. J.D. Morgan had a role, Ducky Drake had a role, everybody had a role, but I knew who was steering the whole thing.

I took the dissertation to Coach Wooden as rough as can be. It was triple spaced, and I said, "Conceptually, what are we looking at here? Just give me some feedback, and if there's anything in there that was transcribed incorrectly or that you would like to alter, please let me know and just give me a call."

A couple days later, I get a call. We go to his apartment and he invites me in. I sat down in his den, and I look over and see all my work and all these red-lines, and I'm going, "Oh, no."

He handed it to me, and goes, "Here it is."

I looked through it, and here are all these grammar marks. Correct, punctuation marks. He had corrected about 850 pages of triple space. He had dotted every "i" and crossed every "t." I was so embarrassed, and said, "Coach Wooden, I didn't mean for you to do this."

He said, "Oh, Marv, it was my background and I enjoyed it."

You know how it is for a doctoral dissertation. They want you to go through "Here are your orals, here is your defense."

I said to my adviser, "Here's what I've done. Get the committee together tomorrow. I'm getting a flight and I'll be up there."

He said, "No, that isn't the way we do it here, we do it this way."

I said, "Do me a favor and just do it." I went in and sat down and I looked at all these guys and they're sports and athletic fans along with teachers and educators. They were like kids in a candy store.

They said, "He did this?" and were looking through it. They got a little bit of composure and they just basically stamped it.

I invited Coach Wooden down to speak at the USA Volleyball Awards banquet. There were 500 people there. It was sold out max, the only sell-out we had. Five hundred people had John Wooden stories. Not just a couple. Everybody there had a Coach Wooden story.

I've seen how everybody wants a piece of him at all times. I try not to be one of those people, and yet I'll be sitting here in this office like I was a few years back, several years after my study. It was a Saturday morning. Monday through Friday, I'm a teacher and a coach, and I meet with all kinds of people, so I don't get a lot of quality time to write thank you's and to do the special things. I've always come in on Saturday morning. I just pull the curtains here and look at the ocean, and I won't even turn on the light and I would do that quality work.

It's about 8:30 on a Saturday morning, when somebody comes in and taps me on the shoulder and says, "Marv, how are you doing?" It's Coach Wooden and I haven't shaved. There's a standard there. He's clean-shaven and not a hair's out of place.

I said, "Coach Wooden, what are you doing here?"

He said, "Marv, I start my camp, I heard you might be up here and I just wanted to say hello."

All I could think of was that I haven't shaved and what's he gonna think of me? That's where I am with Coach Wooden.

I picked John Wooden to write my dissertation on because when I was a young student athlete in the late sixties and seventies there was one dominant coach in sports, and that was Coach Wooden. The opportunity to go back five years after he retired and study his philosophies and the process was the opportunity of a lifetime.

I am no one to judge Coach Wooden or to even attempt to rate him. We're getting a lot of coaches who have a style that we would say would be comparable to Wooden's style, but what he did is that he did it his way, before anybody else. It's difficult to be the first of the new. Once that's established, there are people who always jump on the bandwagon to be second. He set a standard that is a really high standard for coaching in the United States and in the world.

Coach Wooden, and probably any good coach, given some technical expertise, could coach any sport. Coach Wooden, if he had some football knowledge, would be a great football coach. He'd be a great baseball or volleyball coach. Some things transcend coaching. Coaching is not necessarily knowledge. There are a lot of knowledgeable coaches in sports who can't coach a lick. He had both knowledge and the process. Sometimes you're a little bit more knowledgeable than you are with your relationships with the players, or vice versa, but you can't be lopsided. You have to have some knowledge and you have to have a little bit of the process. He had high levels of both and that was confirmed.

Also, he was consistent. You can't be sarcastic or witty as a coach. You have to leave your sense of humor out of it because some people will get your humor and some people won't. The great coaches, the great leaders, the great parents, are consistent. And he was consistently John Wooden.

Wooden knew the game, he knew the process, and he was an elite athlete. I was talking to an elite musician one time, and he ended up being a taxi cab driver. And I said, "Why is that? Why didn't you teach?" And he said he did, but within an hour he kicked the chair out from under a student because they didn't want it as much as he wanted it. They didn't respect it.

John Wooden was and is a master psychologist. He knows what makes people tick. The one comment that I heard over and over again that just (and I'll use this word one more time) was "awesome" was shared by two or three assistant coaches. They would be in the locker room, uptight as you could be before a national championship. The players, assistant coaches, had all the butterflies and were filled with anxiety. Coach Wooden would walk in and within ten seconds everybody knew just by his presence that they were going to win the national championship.

You hear that over and over again. There's a tremendous presence there. It's not something that's given. It's earned. If you're an expert and you have a reference source, if you're a good person and you have the relationship with the individuals, you know what makes them tick and if you're real and sincere, you're going to have some influence. He had a tremendous influence on people.

He was so principled and so talented and so comfortable. The great ones are so comfortable with who they are that there's no baggage. So you feel comfortable with that because they're comfortable with themselves.

Wooden was the most important coach of the sixties and seventies, in any sport, without question. It was not only the accomplishments, but the way he accomplished it. You can't have worthy ends with unworthy means. He did that. He focused on his own team. All the things that you would read about or listen to him talk about on the Pyramid, he believed. He was a sportsman.

He didn't say to this me, but I always told my kids that ability and class are the things that intimidate me, not somebody who's yelling and screaming. His teams always had a high level of ability and a high level of class. Look at sports today. I see some professional sports and even some collegiate sports that are a little bit closer to wrestling and roller derby. His teams didn't do that. His teams were pure teams. The acknowledging of the outlet pass. The guy who puts the ball in at the end turns around and acknowledges the other guy. He started doing that and having his players do that before other people. Now it's commonplace.

I interviewed all his former assistants. That was a dissertation within a dissertation. I put Coach Wooden and the time and things he offered me in a separate category. A couple things stood out. One question was how competitive was Coach Wooden? Gary Cunningham talked about how in those days coaches did things that I don't think our society lets happen now. They used to go camping together, all the families. He spoke about Denny Crum, how Denny was like Coach Wooden. They'd go fishing, and it would not be to relax and fish, but to see who could catch the most. So if it was pool, cribbage or whatever, Coach Wooden was always competing. I asked Denny about that, and he got a big smile. He wouldn't say a lot, but I could tell there were competitive battles won or lost. Denny would have something to say about Coach Wooden, his competitiveness, then Coach Wooden would say, "Well, I always told Denny that from the tip of his nose to his chin, he was the best goofy player around."

One thing that stood out was preparation. Wooden challenged his coaches, "Why do you believe that?" He wanted you to stand up for what you believed in. If you didn't say it and document it, if you weren't fully convinced that this was the way to handle, say offensive rebounding or to press, then you didn't have much to say. You couldn't just throw something out to Coach Wooden without having it be well thought out and the ability to back it up to the hilt. Anything would go, according to his assistants, behind closed doors. Then once they went out, they went out together.

I have the Pyramid of Success in my dissertation as a page, but that wasn't my mission when I was looking at the process. I've heard him talk on his Pyramid of Success. It's something that's worked for him and for others. I didn't play under him and I've learned to be Marv Dunphy, not Marv Wooden. When I talk, I share the things that are important to me and I do well. It's nowhere near his Pyramid of Success, but as you go along, you have the things that work for you, so I am somewhat independent of the Pyramid of Success.

When I was young, I watched all sports teams play, yet his team was a true team. I didn't know why, all I knew is that it looked great and I liked his style. He wasn't ranting and raving. I was a basketball player until I changed and became a volleyball athlete. I've worked pretty hard to make sure that if I'm going to be leading a team that we're all pulling on the same end of the rope. That's important. Team play was important to him and little things were important.

There's a tendency, I think, for teachers to teach the way they were taught, for athletes to coach the way they were coached. Early on, my ears were open and I was listening to what others were saying and doing. Just about everybody who finds out I did my dissertation on Coach Wooden, says something like, "Did you get the magic and now you have it?" If someone were to read my dissertation, they would say, "Oh, I do that!" It confirms some of the things that you're doing.

As the U.S. National Volleyball Coach in 1985-88, we played about eighty matches a year all over the world. There wasn't a country that we didn't go to where there wouldn't be a John Wooden story. When people would read the program or the press release, or perhaps ask how I got into coaching. Coach Wooden's name would come up, and the first question asked was, "What did you learn from Coach Wooden?" People always ask me that. "Did you pattern your style, your philosophy after Coach Wooden? Is that why you were successful?" I always give credit where credit is due. He deserves part of the credit for where I am and where I'm going and I'll always be grateful for that.

In the United States, we have coaching effectiveness programs that are the trendy thing to do. He, to me, was a coaching effectiveness program.

It is mostly people in volleyball whom I come in contact with, and they are very familiar with John Wooden. If they were in coaching or sports, whether it's Cuba or China, they'd know about Wooden. I remember spending days in Tallinn, the capitol of Estonia, talking with coaches from Tarta University, and they were asking me my coaching process. And I'd say, "Okay, here it is."

As I was speaking, one of them said, "Well, that's somewhat comparable to John Wooden at UCLA, the famous basketball coach." They had studied Coach Wooden in Estonia in the Soviet Union in August of 1987! Snow flurries in Russia and there I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel talking about Coach Wooden.

Walking in to meet Coach Wooden caused a lot of anxiety because I didn't know how it was going to go. It's like going into an Olympic gold medal match. If you know how it's going to go, and you have a plan like we had in 1988, you feel pretty good about that. The plan and your talent that you have and your history lowers that anxiety level. Going to meet Coach Wooden was more than a first date could ever be. I was always on my toes, but about halfway through that day and the following days I just felt better and better. It was Coach Wooden who was making me feel better.

Great people have a sense of security about themselves. They're exactly what you see. There's no excess baggage. They feel comfortable about themselves and they have a presence about themselves and they have an air about themselves that they're not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and what they say. There's a tremendous sense of integrity. Their words match their deeds and their deeds match their words and they have no problem with that.

You feel that automatically with Coach Wooden. My five-year-old feels that. It's a sense that animals have about other animals and people and that people surely have about other people. My daughter could have that same feeling that the athletes had in the locker room. Anxiety, what's gonna happen? National television, national championship, professional careers, dollars, and within ten seconds, his presence, they knew that they were going to win. My little girl, within ten seconds of contact with him, feels at ease and is sitting on his lap and is telling him about her day. There's just a presence there that people are attracted to.

Swen Nater says that the athletes don't go back to Wooden because they want to relive the national championships or look at the banners or rewards but because they know where love is. That's a great statement. In some way, shape or form, coaches and teachers are going to have an impact on the athlete. It could be positive, it could be negative, but an impact either way. You can see the tremendous impact that Coach Wooden had on the lives of the people that he coached and the people that he touched.

If you go back to where Coach Wooden was in Indiana, he basically got his values from the farm. So if a young person were to say, "This Friday I'm going out with Susie Q," the rest of the boys would say, "No, no, no, you're only fifteen. You wait until you're nineteen. You've gotta work on this farm." You got a lot of values from your family, from that close-knit society.

Now we're a little more transient, and I don't know if they get as much from the families and that sense of community we used to get. Kids today get a lot from some of their heroes, some stars and some teachers, but I think there's not that emotional experience with the teacher as much as with Coach Wooden. He had a tremendous impact on the athletes that were around him. They got a lot of their guidance from him. Some of them came with their own and would challenge him on his principles and on his values, but they know what he stood for and I think that they learned from him. And I'm sure that at times they would disagree, but I think the further they get away, the more they respect what he believed in, what he stood for, and how he treated them as people and as athletes.

This is what Coach Wooden wrote on November 5, 1981 on my ten copies of my dissertation:

Thank you, Coach Marv Dunphy for considering this retired teacher/coach a worthy subject for this doctoral thesis. I hope that the project will prove to be beneficial to you personally and to all those who will review it. Growth is the result of the things that we experience and our study of the experience of others and how we react to both good fortune and misfortune. May the parts of my philosophy that you have presented in this study help others lessen the time gap in the development of their own personal philosophy.
Best wishes to you and yours.
Always in all ways, John Wooden 11/5/81

What People are saying about this

Walt Hazzard
The very base of the Pyramid of Success is that we have to be honest with ourselves. The Pyramid is very simple, very clear, and it makes sense. It¹s a tremendous motivational tool for self-esteem, personal development.
Olympic Gold Medalist
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wooden was a constant teacher and role model. I really appreciate his morality and what he was able to impart as far as how to live your life, how to enjoy success. (The Pyramid of Success) is a very effective blueprint for life.
Basketball Hall of Famer
Jim Rome
Arguably the greatest teacher of all time . . . If I were you, I¹d go out and take a look at this book. It¹s a very, very good read.
national sports broadcaster
Bill Walton
The Pyramid of Success is a lifetime of leadership by example.
Basketball Hall of Famer

Meet the Author

Entertainment and media attorney Neville Johnson is a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley, where he was Phi Beta Kappa. He received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law, graduating near the top of his class. As a lawyer, he has been selected as one of the top 100 Power Lawyers in entertainment law by the Hollywood Reporter 2008-present, and has been named by Variety as one of the top fifty lawyers in entertainment. In addition to practicing law, Neville is a prolific songwriter, poet, and author. He lives with his wife, Cindy, in Los Angeles.

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The John Wooden Pyramid of Success 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Picassoette More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book on the recommendation of my brother and he loved it. He said it was an inspirational story and a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This certainly has to be the ultimate guide to John Wooden. From the in-depth interviews with friends, family, former players and historians, to the well-researched biography, I learned more about Coach Wooden and his philosophy on life then from any other Wooden book. Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book. Definately recommend it to anyone, whether sports fan or not. Great philosphy to live by.