What if…a snow storm hadn’t kept John Wooden from going to Minnesota?

This is the tenth post in our ongoing series of the Top 10 What Ifs in college basketball history.

The story is relatively famous in college basketball circles.  In They Call Me Coach, John Wooden wrote about a decision he had to make in 1948.

He had just finished coaching Indiana State all the way to the NAIB Finals where they lost to Louisville.  He was an up and coming coach that was desired by several schools.

What if…

A snow storm hadn’t kept John Wooden from going to Minnesota?


Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden...who almost wasn't a UCLA coach. (By Associated Students, University of California, Los Angeles via Wikimedia Commons)

Wooden narrowed his list down to two schools: Minnesota and UCLA.  Being from the Midwest, it’s not surprising that he wanted to go to Minnesota.  He had promised to give Frank McCormick (AD at Minnesota) and Wilbur Johns (AD at UCLA) an answer on an agreed-upon evening:

“I had decided to take the Minnesota job except for one problem—the retention of Dave McMillan [ sic ], the man whom I would be replacing, as my assistant. Even though I liked Mr. McMillan [ sic ], I wanted my own man, Eddie Powell. Minnesota had to get approval from its board that was meeting that particular day for me to bring Powell and not keep McMillan [ sic ]. As it was set up, McCormick was to call me for my answer at 6:00 P.M. and Johns would call at 7:00. There was a snow storm raging in Minneapolis that day and Frank got snowed in and couldn’t get to a phone on time. I didn’t know of the problem so when Mr. Johns called, right on time, I accepted the UCLA job. When McCormick finally reached me about an hour later, he told me everything was ‘all set.’

“‘It’s too late,’ I told him. ‘I have already accepted the job at UCLA.’”

Now, the details in this story have often been debated, but one thing is for certain:  John Wooden was very close to taking the job at Minnesota.

What if he had?

The reason this hypothetical lands all the way up at Number One is because no other “What If” would have directly affected as many championships as this one.

At a minimum, ten championships from college basketball history would belong to different schools.

John Wooden might never coach Bill Walton.

Had Wooden gone to Minnesota, it’s very possible that he could have still recruited Lew Alcindor.  The perfecter of the Sky Hook was from New York City, and he may have traveled anywhere to play for Coach Wooden.

One little-known fact about the Wizard of Westwood is how progressive he was in the Civil Rights movement.

In 1946, his Indiana State team won the Indiana Intercollegiate Title and was invited to play in the NAIB.  However, because of the NAIB’s stance that blacks couldn’t play, Wooden held his team out of Tournament play in support of Clarence Walker, an African-American from Chicago that played on his team.

In the past, many coaches had just chosen to play without a few players.  Not Wooden.  His team would stick together, and they refused to play in such a racist tournament.

The next year, the rules were changed, and Indiana State again received an invitation.  This time, they made it all the way to the final game where they lost to Louisville – the only championship game that a Wooden-coached team ever lost.

Wooden was somewhat of a hero in the black community, and Lew Alcindor traveled all the way across America to play for him.  It’s likely that he would have traveled to Minnesota, or anywhere, just to play for Coach Wooden.

However, Bill Walton was from Southern California.  He loved the area.  He was a hometown legend.

For him, it was easy to go to UCLA.  They had won several titles already, and he go on winning while staying at home.

Had Wooden been in Minnesota, there’s a great chance that he would have never coached Bill Walton.  How much different would both of their college careers be in that case?

Walton is hailed by many as the greatest collegiate player of all time.  That would almost certainly change without an 88-game-winning streak on his resume.

As for Wooden, part of me wants to say that it wouldn’t have mattered who he coached…but I know that’s not realistic.  Without Walton, Wooden may have only won 6 or 7 titles instead of the staggering 10 that he accumulated.

Dayton, Purdue, Jacksonville, Florida State, and Memphis State might have won National Championships.

Now, the Purdue fan in me wants to get up and scream that, “Hey!  We won a national championship in 1932 with John Wooden playing!”  Unfortunately, nobody (besides Purdue fans) counts this as an actual championship since it came before Tournament play started in 1939.  The 1969 team led by Rick Mount and Billy Keller could have been one of the all time great teams.  Instead, they lost to Coach Wooden in the finale.

Because of John Wooden and UCLA, each of these five schools were kept from winning national championships.

Without him?  All of these schools might have a banner and a source of bragging rights over their rivals.

Of course, they may actually not have won a title, because…

Minnesota would be the legendary power, not UCLA.

A quick comparison of Minnesota and UCLA before Wooden is pretty telling.  Neither school had almost any history whatsoever.

Minnesota had actually won a few “Helms and Premo” National Championships before 1920, but it was hardly a basketball school.  UCLA’s past was even worse.  They had only had five winning seasons in the previous 21 years. To say that Coach Wooden turned them around instantly would be the understatement of the century.

I feel 100% confident making the statement, “Had Wooden gone to Minnesota, THEY would be the legendary basketball school today, NOT UCLA.”

Think about how different things would be.

If Minnesota was the basketball power, how different is life in the Big Ten?

Before 1975, only one team from each Conference was allowed in the NCAA Tournament.  Assuming Minnesota would have won the bid every season, that means the following accomplishments for these schools would have been lost:

  • Indiana – One Final Four and One Elite Eight.  (Even though UCLA was still great in 1976 in Wooden’s first year away, I think we can still assume that the 32-0 Hoosiers would have won the Big Ten…as much as the Purdue fan in me pains to say it, we can let them still have that one.)
  • Michigan – Two Final Fours and Five Elite Eights.
  • Ohio State – One Championship, Two Final Fours, Six Elite Eights.
No longer are IU, Michigan, and Ohio State the premier powers in the Big Ten.  Instead, we would be talking about the lore of the Golden Gophers.
Of course, this pales in comparison to what would have happened to UCLA.  Even if Walton had stayed at home and gone to school there, they would have been lucky to win one with him and lesser players – not to mention a lesser coach. And who knows, if UCLA doesn’t have Coach Wooden, maybe Elvin Hayes wins a championship for Houston.  Maybe the game of the century in the Astrodome never happens.
And all because of a random snowstorm in Minnesota.

What if…?


Top 10 College Basketball What Ifs of All-Time Series (All)

10. What if Hank Gathers hadn’t died in the middle of a game?
9. What if Christian Laettner had been suspended for stomping on Aminu Timberlake?
8. What if Houston hadn’t been upset by NC State?
7. What if the NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich?
6. What if Chris Webber hadn’t called timeout?
5. What if Gordon Hayward’s shot hadn’t rimmed out?
4. What if Coach K had been fired from Duke after 3 seasons?
3. What if LeBron had gone to college and the one-and-done rule was never instituted?
2. What if Kentucky had beaten Texas Western?
1. What if there wasn’t a snow storm to keep John Wooden from going to Minnesota?

About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. Scottie Mac says:

    Just now getting around to reading the batch you released all at once due to a vacation …

    If Minnesota didn’t have the silent, player-paying boosters that UCLA did, I believe we talk about Wooden being one of the greatest coaches in the game but not necessarily THE GREATEST. I don’t want to bag on a dead coach because I believe in principle he was a good man and taught his players well, but UCLA is dirty three times over. Without the sun and the glitz and glamour and cash, I don’t think you have the same titles … otherwise, wouldn’t Tubby Smith have a title by now (and not the one he might win in the NIT tomorrow night)?

  2. sptrfn sptrfn says:

    Yeah, there is no way that Minny would have had the same dynasty.

    Also, I don’t think that Dayton and Purdue would have won in 1967 and 69. Without UCLA in the way, Houston wins in 67 and 68, and Drake wins it all in 69 (they almost stole the game from UCLA in the last minute, for crying out loud).

    If Houston wins back-to-backs, I wonder what that does for Guy Lewis’s legacy and his recruiting. Maybe they are a more consistent power, and they go to Final Fours in the 70’s as well as the 80’s when they had Drexler.

    Also, speaking of Minnesota and UCLA, here’s another WI:

    What if the 1972 Minnesota-Ohio State brawl is a minor scuffle, and the Gophers somehow avoid anything major and make it to the finals against UCLA?  Does that ticking time bomb go off on national TV in the Championship Game? Does Bill Walton get beat up instead of Luke Witte?

  3. Jimreilly43 says:

    Not true about Alcindor playing for Wooden at Minn. Ralph Bunche and Jackie Robinson helped recruit Lew for UCLA but would not have if Wooden was at Minn. Also had St. John’s not forced 
    Joe Lapchick into retirement he would have played for the Johnnie’s as stated in his biography.

  4. This is very attention-grabbing, You are a very professional blogger. I have joined your rss feed and stay up for searching for extra of your excellent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

  5. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your
    weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself?

    Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great
    blog like this one these days.

  6. Wow, fantastic blog format! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for?
    you made blogging glance easy. The total look of your website is
    excellent, as well as the content!

  7. LIke your site. Do you want to trade links.

  8. Good info. Lucky me I discovered your blog by chance
    (stumbleupon). I have book marked it for later!

  9. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    There’s no doubt that that you need to publish more
    on this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but typically folks don’t speak
    about such subjects. To the next! Cheers!!

  10. Hi, its pleasant paragraph regarding media print,
    we all be familiar with media is a impressive source of information.

  11. I am certain this post has touched each of the internet visitors,
    its really really good piece of writing on accumulating
    new blog.

  12. This design is spectacular! You definitely know how to keep a reader amused.

    In between your wit along with your videos, I used to be
    almost transferred to start my own, personal blog (well, almost…HaHa!)
    Wonderful job. I truly enjoyed what you needed to say, and over that,
    how you will presented it. Too cool!

  13. Make money working from home, it’s easy!

  14. Make money working from home, it’s easy!

  15. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is valuable and all. Nevertheless just imagine if you added some great images or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and clips, this website could undeniably be one of the most beneficial in its field. Fantastic blog!

  16. I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. Cheers

  17. Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no back up. Do you have any solutions to stop hackers?

  18. Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored at work so I decided to check out your website on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the knowledge you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how quick your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, superb blog!

  19. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  20. Wonderful blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused .. Any recommendations? Many thanks!

  21. Good info. Lucky me I reach on your website by accident, I bookmarked it.

  22. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else experiencing issues with your site. It seems like some of the written text on your posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them too? This might be a issue with my web browser because I’ve had this happen before. Kudos

  23. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back at some point. I want to encourage one to continue your great writing, have a nice holiday weekend!

  24. First of all I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Thank you!

  25. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Many thanks!

  26. I’ve been browsing online greater than 3
    hours nowadays, yet I by no means discovered any interesting article like yours.
    It is beautiful price sufficient for me. In my opinion,
    if all site owners and bloggers made just right
    content as you probably did, the internet will likely be a lot more useful than ever before.

  27. Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having trouble locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an e-mail.
    I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you
    might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it grow over

  28. ET9mCX This awesome blog is obviously cool and also factual. I have picked many helpful advices out of it. I ad love to return again soon. Thanks a lot!

  29. Thanks for publishing this, I appreciate your info!

  30. Where can I find the best online creative writing courses? I reside in NYC therefore which colleges offer the best online innovative writing training course? If not really in a university than exactly where else?.

Speak Your Mind