Los Angeles — Since the legendary John Wooden retired, the University of California at Los Angeles has had three head basketball coaches (Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham, and Larry Brown), each of whom stayed two years.
With the talent and wining tradition Wooden left, plus the kind of quality Bartow, Cunningham, and Brown were able to recruit on their own, they all did extremely well. In fact, Brown in his first year at UCLA got the Bruins into the NCAA finals, where they lost to Louisville.
All three left on their own -- Bartow because of a hostile alumni; Cunningham because he preferred administration work at a desk; Brown because of a lucrative multiyear contract to coach the NBA New Jersey Nets.
The one UCLA constant through this six-year period has been Larry Farmer, an assistant coach who is now the head man. Farmer, who started at forward for two years under Wooden (during his three varsity seasons the Bruins won 89 of 90 games), carries a low profile.
Despite the fact that he had several head-coaching offers the last two years from big-name schools, Larry continued to stay at UCLA, although even he admits that he wasn't sure why at the time.
"Nobody in the athletic department here ever promised me anything if Brown or anyone else left," Farmer said. "Nobody ever suggested that someday I might be rewarded for my loyalty, and that was all right with me.
"Although the schools that offered me head-coaching jobs were big, they were not known for having big-time basketball programs. Looking back, maybee that's why I said no. Now, of course, I'm glad I stayed."
Asked to explain his philosophy as a head coach, Farmer replied: "I'm not sure I like the word philosophy. To me teamwork has to be foremost in a team game. Conditioning is very important, because you don't want to give away anything physically in the second half, especially against strong opponents. We'll play hard at both ends of the floor, and we'll also play unselfishly."
"I don't intend to be a coach who replies on a lot of players," he continued. "I'll probably go mostly with 7 or 8, and let the others move themselves up and down on my ladder based on what they do in practice. If I carry 15 players, which I plan to do right now, the 7 or 8 who don't play much are going to be unhappy, and I can understand.
"But that's the way it was when I was a player under Wooden -- guys had to come in and earn their place in the lineup, and I hope that system never changes at UCLA. Wooden had the right idea; he did things the same way all the time and kept everything simple."
Offensively, Farmer says, he probably won't use more than eight or nine plays with options. Defensively, he'll teach both a zone and man-to-man. The way he sees it, the Bruins will be so well conditioned that they won't have any trouble running just as hard in the second half of a game as they did in the first.
"I remember Wooden's first practice one year when I was a player when we ran this simple little offensive play until we could do it in our sleep." Larry said. "Later that season, when we had our first workout for the NCAA playoffs, he had us doing the same thing."
Questioned as to how much his style and thinking might imitate Wooden, Farmer replied: "Imitate is another word I don't like.I'll adopt some of Wooden's principles, because I've seen them work. But I'm the teacher now, and it will be up to me to find out what makes my players tick. I believe a coach can motivate a player, because I know Wooden motivated me. But I certainly won't ask players to do things I know they can't."
The way Farmer decided to go to UCLA is interesting. Although he had been a tremendous high school player in Colorado, only small colleges seemed interested in him at graduation time. So, with the help of his coach, he sent out resumes to 20 of the biggest schools in the country and got back 19 scholarship offers.
"I decided on UCLA because they were the only school that asked for a film of one of my games and because of Wooden," Larry explained.
What kind of team will the Bruins have this season?
"We'll be good," Farmer said. "We've got size, we've got depth, and we've got quickness, I don't see any major problems. From the beginning of the season to the end we'll be stressing fundamentals."
Farmer will also be gaining two new centers this year -- 7 ft. Stuart Gray and 6-11 Brad Wright. One seems certain to break into UCLA's starting lineup."