Gene Bartow Reflects on Replacing a Legend
In 1975, Bartow (pictured right) left Illinois after one season to take over a fairly successful program on the West coast. A program that had won, oh, 10 of the last 12 national titles.
A program in Los Angeles. Coached by a legend. A legend named John Wooden.
Bartow was very successful in two seasons at UCLA, losing only nine of 61 games and reaching the 1976 Final Four. That, however, wasn't nearly good enough for UCLA fans.
The problem was Wooden lost only 12 of 271 games the previous nine seasons, which included eight NCAA titles, before retiring.
Bartow, now 69, laughs when he remembers that first season taking over for the Wizard of Westwood.
"That first year I was there, the [basketball] secretary would answer the phone and say 'do you want to go to Coach Wooden's or Coach Bartow's camp?' " Bartow told FanHouse on Friday afternoon.
Even though Wooden was no longer coaching at UCLA, he was still conducting a summer camp in Los Angeles.
"I joked and said 'I would only send my son [Murry] to his camp also,' " Bartow said.
In fact, all three summers that Gene Bartow and his family were in Los Angeles, his son, Murry, then between 13 and 15 years old, attended Wooden's camps. But Murry also attended Gene Bartow's camps.
Gene Bartow, who himself is battling stomach cancer, was sad to hear that "Coach Wooden" was in the hospital earlier Friday. Wooden passed away later Friday night. He was 99.
"He's been a great friend of mine going back to my days coaching at Valparaiso [in the 1960s]," Bartow said.
Bartow said the last time he spoke with Wooden was on the telephone about four to five months ago. Bartow said Wooden called him when he heard Bartow had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.
"John was always nothing but positive," Bartow said. "He was a great friend since I left UCLA 33 years ago. He was a great Christian gentleman and was very, very good at his job.
"He was a teacher. He was a great teacher of the sport of basketball."
Bartow admits he wasn't ready to take over the monster expectations that Wooden had created at UCLA
"In trying to win every game – of course I was trying – it was something I wasn't enjoying," Bartow said. "The expectations were so high. At Valparaiso or Memphis State, I had never been in that kind of situation. Then someone [UAB] offered to triple my salary and I walked away from it.
"John was always great, the [UCLA] athletic director was great. Everyone was good to me. But some of the fans were obnoxious from the standpoint if we lost a game it was a catastrophe than at other jobs where we lost here and there."
Bartow said there's not many jobs, if any, that compare with coaching at UCLA. That is what made Wooden's success even more remarkable.
"I think there are certain jobs that are a little different and I think UCLA basketball is one," Bartow said. "Notre Dame football and Alabama football, and probably also Kentucky basketball are others. The expectations are greater and you have to adjust to [the fans] expecting you to win every single game. I didn't adjust every well."
If it's possible, Bartow thinks Wooden hasn't received enough credit throughout the years for what he accomplished.
"He won when he had some great players, but he won when he had some good players," Bartow said. "We've all had good players, but we didn't always win like he did.
"Most people in coaching whether they're at the collegiate, pro or high school level [have been influenced by Wooden]. His accomplishments are unbelievable – 10 national championships in a 12-year period. I can never imagine anything close to that every being accomplished again."
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at email@example.com or on Twitter @BrettmcmurphY