SI Vault
 
Wise In The Ways Of The Wizard
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 30, 1981
Three rushed in where Wooden used to tread—then split. Now comes the fourth, Larry Farmer, truest of true believers
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 30, 1981

Wise In The Ways Of The Wizard

Three rushed in where Wooden used to tread—then split. Now comes the fourth, Larry Farmer, truest of true believers

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

The grumbling from alumni and the carping from the press increased, and Bartow became, in his word, paranoid. "We had worked hard, we had a great year," he says. "And yet they came out of the woodwork after me. I didn't deserve that. I just wasn't ready for it."

Bartow told off the newspapers. He walked off a radio show. He was booed during the introductions at Pauley. By his second season he had disassociated himself (and urged his freshmen to do the same) from Sam Gilbert, a construction magnate who is the Bruins' most public and powerful supporter, but who, Bartow felt, had too much control over the program. Texas Coach Abe Lemons once said, "I guess if you have a Pyramid of Success—and Sam Gilbert—you can always be a winner." Wooden had used the ostrich approach with Gilbert: He didn't want to know. Bartow tried to diminish the influence of "Papa G," as the players call him, and he failed.

During his second season Bartow was chastised by Gilbert, who said the coach was shaming the school by bowing his head on the bench. Soon the Bruins had lost in the NCAA tournament to Idaho State. Gilbert privately told Billy Packer, the television announcer, that he and other wealthy alumni were buying up Bartow's contract. Not long afterward Bartow was able to write his own new ticket—at UAB.

"John Wooden was right," Bartow says. "I was too sensitive then. I think I could cope now. But every coach needs a power base and there is a certain vulnerability when you are being constantly attacked by the media. Not to mention by others. Once I told the L.A. Times that whatever happened, I'd always be a small-town Missourian, and I guess that's what I am. Whoever thought I would ever share an office with the man?"

In Bartow's present office—twice again the size of the one at UCLA, and he shares it with no one—he still keeps all the nasty letters in a desk drawer. On one wall there is a lone reminder of UCLA: a framed photograph of the 1973 NCAA championship game between UCLA and Memphis State. Bartow coached in that contest to be sure. But it was not for the Bruins. It was against them.

The Wizard's Disciple. It was sometime during Gary Cunningham's coaching tenure at UCLA that visiting teams ceased feeling the wrath of God merely upon setting foot on the Bruins' home court. "Opponents used to think about playing only for respectability against UCLA, not about winning. You saw it in their eyes. The awe when they spotted the banners. The fear when they came out for the warmups. Then it all changed." This is what Cunningham was telling the Rotary Club of Laramie, Wyo. down at The Tipple one recent lunch-time. In March of 1979 Cunningham had stunned the UCLA basketball family by resigning as head coach to become the athletic director at tiny Western Oregon State College in Monmouth, where he could fish, hike and supervise the activities of the Wolves' teams in the Evergreen Conference. Talk about a refuge. Now Cunningham has surfaced again in Division I as A.D. at Wyoming, which is how he happened to be butchering Ragtime Cowboy Joe with the rest of the Rotary crew and reminiscing about UCLA.

Cunningham was the heir apparent to Wooden before the first coaching change in 1975, but he immediately disqualified himself by opting to work in the alumni office in Westwood. During the Bartow years, however, Cunningham says he missed coaching and, by a "purely emotional decision," he agreed to go back to the bench when his alma mater beckoned in 1977. In 1962 Cunningham had played on the first Wooden team to make the NCAA Final Four. (The Bruins lost to Cincinnati at the buzzer in the semifinals.) In 1965 he had coached the Alcindor-led UCLA freshman team to a 15-point victory over the two-time defending national champion varsity. And he had been at Wooden's side since 1965. His credentials were impeccable. Cunningham says the spectre of Wooden never bothered him. He says the alumni never uttered a harsh word. Of the 58 games his teams played, they lost eight, none by more than four points. Still, he was unhappy.

"My time at UCLA was very rewarding," says Cunningham. "But Gene Bartow is right. The job was not always fun. All coaching is draining. At UCLA it is extra demanding. I think it takes a special kind of person to go through that year after year. The UCLA mystique was diminished by the time I went back, and that made it even harder. Coach Wooden's presence was everything. With the master gone, things couldn't be the same."

By November of Cunningham's second year he had decided to resign effective at the end of the season which ended prematurely in the NCAA West Region final when the Bruins were upset by America's Grandfather, Ray Meyer, and DePaul, 95-91. Even as he was escaping, Cunningham says, he felt "devastated."

Carolina West. If Larry Brown was ever serious about pursuing a career at UCLA, he didn't convince many people in the friendly confines of Westwood. John Wooden doubted he would stay long. Brown's closest friends gave him a year. Sam Gilbert—dum da dum dum—expected a short stay too, especially if Brown tried to keep him from the players. "I could cut his——off and he wouldn't know it until he pulled his pants down," he told a journalist. Good neighbor Sam. With enemies like this, Brown needed friendly confines. Instead, he offended UCLA oldtimers by bemoaning the university's penchant for red tape, the lack of office space and the cramped condition of the facilities. "I came into work the day after a concert at Pauley," Brown says, "and nobody had cleaned the vomit off the steps outside." This was famous, classy UCLA and there was mess right outside the gym? It didn't help that Brown was correct in his belief that an athletic plant so well-endowed in bodies should look as elegant as it plays. The way, say, his own school back in Chapel Hill, N.C. looked. Something should be finer.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6