What if Wooden's Prized Assistant Had Stayed?
By Mitch Chortkoff
John Wooden won 10 national championships as the UCLA basketball coach from 1964 to 1976, the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport.
Since Wooden retired, UCLA has won only one more in 37 years.
In an intriguing new book by Southern California author Steve Bisheff, In The Shadow Of A Legend, the case is made that the Bruins missed out on several more championships because Wooden's prized assistant coach, Jerry Norman left the program at age 38, due primarily to a low salary of $14,000.
Bisheff reveals something that has never been reported – that athletic director J.D. Morgan promised Norman he'd be UCLA's next head coach if he stayed until Wooden retired, which turned out to be seven years later.
But Norman, who had a wife and two daughters, had contacts in the brokerage business. He had been contacted by Notre Dame about their coaching job but decided to join Kleiner-Bell and Company in He earned $60,000 in his first year. Today he is a multi-millionaire.
''I loved coaching and I loved working with the players," said Norman. "But my mind was made up."
Norman resigned but stayed a little longer out of loyalty to the Bruins' basketball program.
You see, he wanted to make sure a player he had recruited, Sidney Wicks from Hamilton High, would enroll in school. When Wicks came in Norman went out.
Wicks became a key player in UCLA's next wave of national championships and was named collegiate Player of the Year.
"I told him I was leaving but I still believed UCLA was the best place for him," said Norman.
Here are some basic facts:
Wooden had been the UCLA coach for 13 years before he hired Norman. In those 13 years UCLA never advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The new assistant saw that Wooden had a very small recruiting budget. Wooden was content to go with local players.
UCLA had played home games at various sites, including Santa Monica College, but the Sports Arena had been built and college basketball was growing in popularity. Of course, there was no Pauley Pavilion back then.
When Norman convinced Morgan UCLA had to go national in recruiting UCLA proceeded to bring in Lew Alcindor from New York, Walt Hazzard from Philadelphia, Mike Warren from Indiana, Lucius Allen and Fred Slaughter from Kansas and others.
Wooden seldom made recruiting trips but did accompany Norman to New York in the pursuit of Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
"Once my parents met Coach Wooden they wanted me to play for him, recalls Abdul-Jabbar.
It also helped that former UCLA athletic star Rafer Johnson appeared on the Ed Sullivan television show that night.
"I found out he had been student body president at UCLA, said Abdul-Jabbar. "That really impressed me, that a black man could earn that position,that he could excel beyond sports."
UCLA had never used the zone press until Norman urged Wooden to try it, and UCLA then won its first two national championships.
In perhaps the biggest game of the Wooden era, the 1968 rematch against Elvin Hayes and the University of Houston, it was Norman's design of a diamond and one defense that shut down Hayes and brought UCLA another championship.
UCLA won four national championships when Norman was Wooden's lead assistant. Wooden's teams won six more after Norman left, and three were with players Norman recruited.
Many players interviewed by Bisheff had high praise for Norman.
"Jerry would have been a special head coach," said Jack Hirsch, a forward on the 1964 national champions. "It all had to do with Jerry. He is the glue. He is one class act."
"Jerry is a guy who never received the accolades he deserved," said Slaughter. "He had charisma. He would have been a great head coach."
"When I watched UCLA in the early 1960s I soon noticed that Wooden's teams and his defense was getting better and better," said forward Lynn Shackelford. "I think his assistant, Jerry Norman, had something to do with that. He was a really good assistant."
Norman attended Horace Mann Jr. High and Washington High in Los Angeles. He was a 6-foot-1 forward with outstanding jumping ability.
He then played at East Los Angeles College and received some Division 1 scholarship offers.
"The one I accepted was from UCLA," he said, "and the reason was that Eddie Sheldrake, who proceeded me at Washington High, encouraged me to do that."
Sheldrake played t UCLA. His friendship with Norman remains strong. Sheldrake encouraged the publishing of this book and is its producer.
Fifteen players recruited by Norman are now in the UCLA Hall of Fame. Two of them, Alcindor and Gail Goodrich, are also in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
So UCLA has 11 national championships in mens' basketball. Had Norman stayed, would it be 15? Or more?
We'll never know.
Proceeds from the sale of this book will support the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation at 9272 Jeronino Road, Suite 122, Irvine, Calif. Instrumental in this Foundation is former Bruin guard John Vallely, who started on the 1969 and '70 national championship teams.
To order a book click on www.intheshadowofalegend.com