During Wooden's reign at UCLA, Bartow was putting together a record of his own that could hardly be described as unsuccessful. He has coached basketball for two decades: six seasons in high school, three at Central Missouri State, six at Valparaiso University, four at Memphis State and one at Illinois. Three times he took Valparaiso to the NCAA small-college regionals, and he directed Memphis State to an 18-8 record in his first year there, after it had been 6-20 the year before. Two seasons later, in 1973, Bartow was named Coach of the Year by his peers for leading the Tigers to the NCAA final. He lost that game to UCLA 87-66. Illinois hired him away from Memphis State last year. The Illini's 8-18 record in 1974-75 was Bartow's worst as a coach, but he turned the school's recruiting system around by actively seeking black players from the Chicago area, a source of talent that Illinois coaches had largely ignored in the past. Illinois released him from a five-year contract so he could go to UCLA. Bartow also coached the Puerto Rican National team to a silver medal in the 1971 Pan-Am Games and a sixth place in the 1972 Olympics, and in 1973 he led a U.S. all-star team on a successful eight-game tour of China.
UCLA's selection of Bartow was like a man acquiring a new hound of the same breed to replace a trusty old beagle who is no longer up to the hunt. Bartow's basketball philosophy parallels Wooden's; he likes a wide-open fast-breaking offense and sticky man-to-man or pressing defense. And the two have strong personal similarities, despite their 20-year difference in age. They are both Midwest-erners—Wooden is from Indiana and Bartow from Missouri. Bartow is nicknamed Clean Gene. He doesn't smoke, doesn't swear, leaves the vodka out of his screwdrivers, goes home to his wife and three kids at night, goes to church every Sunday, gets his hair cut regularly, shaves every morning and insists that his players put their dirty towels in the laundry bin to make the team manager's job easier.
Despite his subdued appearance on the bench, Wooden was a skilled referee-baiter; Bartow can also ride refs with the worst of them. And his sideline outbursts, like Wooden's, are often the product of guile, not anger. One such incident occurred when Memphis State was playing Vanderbilt three years ago. The Tigers led most of the game, but the momentum suddenly shifted to Vanderbilt after a series of calls in its favor. Bartow seemed to grow livid with rage; he called time, leaped from the bench and waved his players off the court. He drew a technical foul, and Lee Hunt had to calm down the referees. The calls were more evenly divided after that, and Memphis State won 74-71. Bartow later claimed his behavior had been mostly an act. No one needs to explain the meaning—or the value—of intimidation to him.
In a speech to more than 500 high school coaches at a clinic at UCLA recently, Bartow described another of his acts: "When I was coaching high school in my nastier days, one of my favorite tricks was to make the team practice late while I yelled at the players and told them how awful they were. After they had taken their showers, I'd go in the locker room, yell at them some more and then send them back on the court for another hour."
That only proves that Clean Gene is human. "He either knows where the body is buried or he's got some dirty pictures under his bed," says one close Bartow-watcher from Illinois. "There's got to be something like that; he's just been too successful for there not to be." Which is just the sort of reaction Wooden's parsonlike demeanor drew from skeptics for years.
Bartow is as successful a coach off the court as he is on it. He may be the best PR man in college basketball; sincerity oozes from him, yet he comes off not as an unctuous back slapper, but as a man who wants to solve your problems. Wherever he goes, he leaves friends. They still love him in Memphis and, had he stayed there longer, he might well have engendered the kind of adoration Wooden receives at UCLA.
"When he gets to a new town, the first thing he does is look up the people who are supposed to be his enemies and cultivate their friendship," says one Chicago newspaperman who has followed Bartow's career closely. "That usually means the media, but it's not only them. One of the first people he became friends with when he was still coaching in high school was Wooden."
Even though Bartow is also considered a masterful recruiter, those talents have not yet been needed at UCLA. When he arrived there, most of this year's work in that area had already been completed by Wooden's assistants. The four freshmen they attracted to UCLA are considered the best incoming group at any college this year. All four are from Los Angeles, and two of them—6'10" Forward David Greenwood and Guard Roy Hamilton—are from the same high school. The other two are Forward Chris Lippert, the Los Angeles All-City Player of the Year, and Guard Brad Holland, who paces around the key at practice, pumping jump shot after swishing jump shot into the net. Because of the returnees from UCLA's national champs of last season, including three starters, only Greenwood is expected to play a great deal this season.
UCLA's first practice was held the day after the party. Bartow's organization of the session and communication with the team was so facile it seemed almost as if his predecessor had never left. (When Bartow blew his whistle for the first time, Wooden was on an 18-day Caribbean cruise with his wife Nell. He will spend his winter at speaking engagements and as color commentator on five televised games.) As the players filed into the locker room after the opening workout, Bartow almost skipped off the court, barely restraining himself from jumping in the air and clicking the heels of his Adidases.
"I've seen some talented teams before, but there's more talent here than I'm accustomed to," he said. "And these guys have spirit. I think this is going to be the kind of team that will walk onto the court and beat people."