When reading all of the tributes to John Wooden, one thing becomes quite clear. Wooden's players listened to him. They admired him. They adored him.
Think about that for a moment. When is the last time you could say a top college or professional athlete truly listened to and really respected their head coach? I mean really truly respected?
Wooden generated trust from his players the way a power plant consistently produces electricity. The fact Wooden could elicit such feelings for almost 30 years is why his coaching career is so practically unmatched.
It leads to a simple and obvious question: Could John Wooden have coached today's athletes?
Despite his Herculean abilities, it is doubtful even legends like Wooden or Vince Lombardi -- or any great coach from that era -- could penetrate the layered insulation of modern players.
Today, athletes see coaches as necessary evils. Some players see them as obstacles. Few see them the way athletes did just 20 years ago, as people to be respected.
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Even greatness like Wooden would need a snorkel from drowning in the throbbing athlete cynicism and entitlement plague that permeates 21st century sports.
Wooden's era at UCLA started in the 1940s and ended three decades later. The '40s and '50s are often portrayed in idyllic, red-white-and-blue near jingoistic terms with the harsh realities for women and minorities clean scrubbed from memories.
Yet one thing was definitely different in terms of sports. Players from all backgrounds and economic strata respected coaching. It was a phenomenon that ended in the 1980s (mostly). Coaches were valued and the great ones like Wooden or Lombardi were respected.
Once television money entered sports and athlete salaries dwarfed those of coaches, everything changed. Remember, some great NFL players in the 1960s still had to work second jobs in the offseason. That cultivated a certain amount of humility.
Wooden coached at a time when collegiate and professional sports were a Christmas card. There's now a harder edge. There's little storybook about sports. The only wizards are in Tolkien novels.
Today if a coach tried to talk about a pyramid of success, he would be laughed at. Players would go to Twitter and call the coach a dumbass and openly wonder what pyramids have to do with jumpers or making bank. Blogs would've ripped Wooden as corny. Players would be texting while Wooden was at the blackboard.
Brett Favre would've told Lombardi to kiss off. Randy Moss would still run his lazy routes.
"Today on Around the Horn, John Wooden hasn't made the NCAA tournament in five seasons. Is it time for him to get fired?"
Are all players unreachable? Of course not. There's a significant number in college basketball and across sports that are eminently coachable but the current culture might've eaten Wooden alive.
One of the better quotes about coaching came from a Florida State football player named Alphonso Carreker, who played defensive line for the Seminoles from 1980 to 1983. He made his remarks in 2007 in the book, What It Means to be a Seminole. Carreker was comparing college football players now vs. when he played.
"When you watch these guys nowadays, I don't think they could have played with us," he said. "Not because they don't have the talent, but because I don't think they could have dealt with the discipline during my era. It's almost like the kids today, with the way they're raised and the things that are given to them, they don't have respect for their elders. We were heads above all that because things weren't tolerated like they are now. That's what made you gain the respect of your coaches, because nothing was tolerated. The game is just played totally different now."
Sports are so different now, even Wooden couldn't tame them.