In this season of March Madness, here’s an easy question: When it comes to championships, who’s the winningest coach in college basketball?
Okay, that was easy, even for people like me who don’t follow the game. (I’m still trying to understand what a pick-and-roll play is, although I’m not putting a lot of effort into the inquiry.)
Different question: Who’s the most successful coach in college basketball?
Different answer? Not sure? Maybe even: “What do you mean by success?”
On a broader level, do we instinctively associate winning with success?
Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis’s through and revealing biography of John Wooden (Wooden: A Coach’s Life) paints a more textured, nuanced and arguably darker picture of the iconic coach who led UCLA to a staggering 10 NCAAchampionships in 12 years. He takes nothing away from Wooden’s remarkable record, but what emerges is the cost that was paid.
I listened to an interview of Davis on NPR over the weekend, and what struck me is that David said Wooden considered his championship years the worst years of his life. The spotlight and pressure brought out the best in him, but it also exposed the worst – his deep insecurities, pettiness, manic need for control, an abrasive manner that crossed over to cruel, an invective trash-talking to players and refs, and a compromising rationalization of bad behavior by wealthy boosters.
I don’t know if Wooden made those choices or he felt victim to the notion that you don’t have a choice. “Whatever it takes to win” is a tough play to call on yourself.
So, was John Wooden “successful?” We can’t answer that for him, and perhaps he had his own definition and answer.
But we can answer that for ourselves.
Some would say that’s what it takes to make it to the top. I’m convinced that’s not true. In fact, in an era of authentic leadership, it is delusional. Being “at the top of your game” takes discipline, intelligence (mental and emotional), drive, and certainly some imbalances in your life at times. However — at least in my view — it means being a whole person. I work with a lot of people who realize early enough that “winning” is not always the same as “success.”
And there is no loss in that.
In fact, it may be the best way to win anyway.