Denny Crum set a record the other day that may never be broken. As he did two years ago, Crum again said no to UCLA. No, he did not want to be the UCLA basketball coach. For behavior thought less foolish, men have been pursued by butterfly nets. But there it is: Most times telling UCLA no-thanks (2), Denzil Crum, University of Louisville.
Think of it. Here we have UCLA, where The Wizard created basketball. Saint John in sneakers, Coach Wooden himself. In 10 of Wooden's last 12 seasons, UCLA won the national championship. To coach at UCLA, to take the torch from John Wooden, would be a step toward heaven.
Or one in the other direction.
Think of it. Here we have UCLA, where victory became commonplace. As our sense of wonder died when man walked on the moon every second Tuesday, so did we accept as ordinary the yearly marvels performed by The Wizard's men. In time, a 31-1 season was cause for analysis of what went wrong. To succeed John Wooden, a man needed temporary insanity.
In two seasons of admitted torture, Gene Bartow coached UCLA to 52 victories in 61 games. Then he came to his senses and quit. Now he's the atletic director and basketball coach at a new college that won't have a basketball team until next year. if 52-9 is extraordinary performance at North Carolina or Louisville or Marquette, it is sorry failure at UCLA, where the zealots once caused Wooden to say sadly, "I don't coach to win; I coach to avoid losing."
Crum, a native of San Fernando, Calif., played for Wooden at UCLA in the late '50s and later was his assistant coach four seasons. He left Wooden's side six years ago for the Louisville job. His record is remarkable: six straight 20-victory seasons, two trips to the National Invitation Tournament, four trips to the NCAA Tournament (three times losing to UCLA, twice to Wooden in the semifinals). Any reasonable list of America's 10 best college coaches would include Crum.
Two years ago, he seemed a natural choice to take over when Wooden made a surprise announcement of retirement. Wooden did it the day after beating Crum's Louisville team in the NCAA semifinals at San Diego. And Crum today admitted he'd left UCLA with one thought in mind: "I'd come back some day and succeed coach Wooden."
The time wasn't right two years ago, Crum said today. Heaven opens its gates only to the patient, and Crum said he didn't want the inevitable hell that would come down on the new man."I'd been through it and I knew what it would be like," he said. "Anything less than a national championship and nobody was satisfied."
So Crum, in 1975, held a press conference and said he didn't want the job.
Cynics suggested Crum's announcement was a grandstand play, that he knew Bartow had the job wrapped up. Crum denies it, but he said today Bartow was the wrong man at the wrong time in the wrong place.
Bartow had made successful teams at Memphis State, once reaching the NCAA championship game against UCLA (the night Bill Walton made 21 of 22 shots). He left there in 1974 for Illionois, a job that seemed years away from any success. A NCAA probation crippled Illionois the year before Bartow arrived.
Bartow's poor record (8-18) at Illinois was forgiveable.And if UCLA wanted a Wooden look-alike, if it wanted a straight-arrow remake of The Wizard, then Clean Gene was the man. A glass gentleman, always.
"But I knew Gene couldn't handle it at UCLA," Crum said. "He's too sensitive."
Crum said friends in Los Angeles told him Bartow once suggested that Wooden not attend UCLA games. It became a fetish for Bartow to separate himself from the Wizard.
When Bartow packed it in, UCLA offered Crum the chance he dreamed of six years ago.
The Bartow experience didn't worry him, Crum said.
"I'm more thick-skinned than he is."
Crum, 40, is fiercely competitive and mightily proud. Where Bartow might smile and say aw-shucks, Crum will tell the world that Crum is a very good coach. He has to be at Louisville: in a state that worships the University of Kentucky's teams, Crum not only has survived, he has prospered. Once the poor relation, Louisville is now Kentucky's equal in national stature.
It would be easier at UCLA now, following Bartow rather than Wooden.It would be a joyous homecoming for the old grad. But Crum said no.
"I wanted to go back to UCLA because it was the top professionally," he explained. "But gradually that feeling left me. The feeling of living here in Louisville got deeper and more important to me. The professional end didn't mean as much any more. My life style did."
Life in Louisville, Crum said, is "more relaxed and it's not a hassle to do everything." Crum owns a 55-acre farm on which he'll build a house overlooking his private lake - 25 minutes from his office. Farrah Fawcett-Majors may make enough money to live that way in Los Angeles, but Crum's hair doesn't look good blond.
Another thing. Bartow was 24-5 last season, and Crum was 21-7. When Crum went home from his no-thanks press conference, a gaily decorated sign was taped to his door: "Looking forward to another great year." That's not what the neighbors said to Clean Gene.