OMAHA—UCLA baseball coach John Savage considers himself extremely fortunate to have met two of the most legendary coaches in all of sports—former Southern California baseball coach Rod Dedeaux and former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden—and both men have been on Savage's mind at the College World Series.
Dedeaux guided USC to 11 of its national championships. Savage was introduced to him in the 1990s, shortly after being hired as an assistant coach for the Trojans.
"He made me feel a part of things right away," Savage said. "Legend of all legends. All the national championships. All the relationships he had at USC with all the Trojans. His relationship overseas with the different countries. This guy was a worldwide legend. Very memorable."
Savage reflected on that last week when the Bruins came to town and Savage visited Dedeaux's favorite Omaha steakhouse, Cascio's, on 10th Street.
"The Dedeaux aura was there," Savage said. "Going into the restaurant and seeing the big picture of Rod. They have his table and chair in there. I went in there with my wife our second or third night here and they told me to sit in that chair and said that was Rod's chair. That was kind of neat. Pretty memorable."
Asked how Dedeaux, who passed away four years ago, would feel about Savage taking the Bruins to the Finals, Savage said, "I think he would have a little smile. I don't think he would let anybody know—because he was a Trojan."
There's no doubt where Wooden would stand. He may have retired 35 years ago after leading the Bruins to 10 national championships, but he remained close to the program right up until his death three weeks ago. Services for Wooden were held at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday as the Bruins baseball team was on the field beating TCU to advance to the Finals.
Savage recalled meeting Wooden soon after he was hired as the baseball coach six years ago.
"When I first got hired Dan Guerrero, our athletic director, and myself and Coach Wooden met for breakfast at this little coffee shop in Encino," Savage said. "I kept my mouth shut as much as I could and listened to every word he said because every word he said meant something. He didn't waste words. I just took a picture with him that I still have in my office. He wrote some real nice messages to my four children in his children's books that he wrote. You're talking about just such a well-rounded human being. I was in awe. I was so humbled and honored to be at UCLA and along with Coach Wooden, it was just a dream come true.
"Coach Wooden is very similar (to Dedeaux). Like I said, he's the coach of all coaches. Legendary coach of UCLA basketball. But so much more. All the lessons, all the messages that he sent along to his former players, other coaches in the business, how to treat different situations. The Pyramid of Success. I know every coach has looked at that and took bits and pieces off it and put it into their daily practice, their daily routines and messages."
"He spoke to all the student-athletes a couple of years ago at a forum," said Savage, "and you could hear a pin drop because you're talking about a 98- or 99-year-old man who's sharp as a tack still sending strong messages to players and coaches. You almost wanted to go up there and squeeze as much information as you could.
"It's hard to put into words what he meant to our team, our university and everybody associated with our university. Our players are very well schooled on Coach Wooden—even though he has not coached in 35 years it doesn't feel like that.
"His presence at UCLA, if you go into Pauley Pavilion or into the Hall of Fame, it's coach Wooden. There's sayings all over campus that he said. And his presence is just felt through all the student-athletes at UCLA."
If Savage is inclined to share one of Wooden's sayings before sending the Bruins onto the field Monday evening against South Carolina, he might use this one: Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.