WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- John Wooden, the man widely acclaimed as the greatest college basketball coach in history once interviewed for the head coaching position at Williams College.
Long a common urban/campus legend at Williams the story of Wooden's interview was recently verified by Linda Hall in the Williams Archives. The evidence of Wooden's interview at Williams was found in a collection of anecdotes compiled by long time history professor Charles Keller.
Keller spent many years as the timekeeper at Williams' basketball games and he was also the subject of a prank by the Williams students at an Amherst game in the 1940s, but that is a story for another day.
Though in the brief note by Keller he misspells Wooden's last name you can see at the end of Keller's writing that he is referring to the John Wooden who won 10 NCAA titles at UCLA.
Wooden, stationed at Williams during World War II as part of the Navy's V12 program, became known as a talented coach by the Williams coaches on campus.
Recently when Felix Grossman '56 was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a Masters Diver he related a meeting with John Wooden in Los Angeles in 1971 after Wooden had delivered a speech to a luncheon.
Grossman was so impressed with Wooden's comments he felt compelled to share with Wooden that those comments reminded Grossman a lot of his coach at Williams, Bob Muir.
The greatness of Bob Muir in Grossman's eyes grew ever larger when he spoke to Wooden that day.
"I introduced myself to Coach Wooden and told him how much I enjoyed his remarks and how much his coaching and living philosophies reminded me of my swimming coach who he had never heard of from a college he also probably had never heard of," stated Grossman. "Wooden asked what college. Following my response, which did not include my coach's name, he said, and this is an exact quote that I will never forget, "Felix, not only have I heard of Williams College, but I taught there during World War II in a Navy program and the man of whom you speak taught my oldest son to swim. To be compared favorably to Bob Muir is the finest compliment any coach can ever receive. Thank you so much."
In an ironic twist of history, the man hired instead of Wooden was Al Shaw. Shaw while playing at Michigan had played against Wooden in college when Wooden starred for the Purdue Boilermakers.