Growing up in the Bay Area, I saw Wooden coach several times against Stanford. By then he was already a living legend and his teams dominated just about everyone they played. One time Stanford outscored UCLA in the second half and the Stanford fans considered it a “moral” victory even though their team lost by double digits. From the stands. Wooden always looked like a dignified professor, quietly analyzing the action and never raising his voice.
The truth was he baited officials and “trashing talked” opposing players all the time. He never used profanity but that didn’t make him a saint. Several opposing coaches didn’t like him because his constant mouthing off juxtaposed with his sportsmanlike image.
Wooden wasn’t always a good communicator and soured some athletes on the program when they couldn’t understand why they weren’t playing. Many of his players found him unapproachable and the exact opposite of a father figure. He was not a man the players would visit to discuss a personal or academic problem.
Wooden took credit for designing UCLA’s patented 2-2-1 zone press defense when it was actually one of his assistants who suggested it. He never gave his underling enough credit for his innovative ideas and the assistant eventually quit because of it.
While Wooden never hesitated to recruit African American athletes, he didn’t always stand up for them during the age of segregation. On several occasions Wooden had chances to make a statement on civil rights but usually avoided them. There were occasions he wouldn’t let his team eat in a restaurant that refused to serve his black players but too often he looked the other way.
The coach also “buried his head in the sand” when it came to illegal benefits by a prominent booster. Players didn’t hide the fact they associated with this booster and many were ignorant that some of the benefits (e.g., buying their comp tickets at a premium) were in violation of NCAA rules. Wooden was aware of the booster but took the “Sergeant Schultz” approach. (“I see nothing. I hear nothing.”) He preferred plausible deniability.