Out of print for more than 30 years, now available for the first time as an eBook, this is the controversial story of John Wooden's first 25 years and first 8 NCAA Championships as UCLA Head Basketball Coach. Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps said, "I used this book as an inspiration for the biggest win of my career when we ended UCLA's all-time 88-game winning streak in 1974."

Compiled with more than 40 hours of interviews with Coach Wooden, learn about the man behind the coach. Click the Book to read the players telling their stories in their own words. This is the book that UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan tried to ban.

Click the book to read the first chapter and for ordering information.

Leatherheads (3/10)

by Tony Medley

Running time 103 minutes.

When a trailer obviously shows the best lines in a film, it’s a telling indication that the movie is too bad to stand on its story and filmmaking. That’s the situation here where the trailer shows a couple of pretty funny scenes. As might be anticipated by any sophisticated movie fan, they are about the only two funny scenes in the entire movie.

There are so many things about this film, a light-hearted look at the start of professional football, that irritated me that I don’t know where to begin. But let’s start with Renée Zellweger. Her pursed-lipped persona just doesn’t cut it here. Watching her look like she just sucked a lemon for the better part of two hours is too much to take. She needs to find a better facial expression.

The script (sportswriters Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, neither of whom had ever written a screenplay before) is filled with what is supposed to be clever repartee between Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) and Lexie Littleton (Zellweger). I can think of little that is more dispiriting than listening to wan attempts at bon mots that fall flat. Of course Brantley and Reilly did not know that they were working with Clooney to deliver their lines when they first wrote the script, which saw its first light of day in the early ‘90s.

George saw it and, according to him, rewrote it. Maybe he’s responsible for the lame dialogue. The Writer’s Guild of America refused him credit, so he reduced his membership in retaliation. After seeing the film, I don’t know why anyone would fight to get credit for the screenplay, but, then, maybe the fact that he actually wants credit for this thing says volumes about his taste.

Undaunted by a shortage of comedic talent, George keeps at his sophistic quest of trying to be Cary Grant. Women like him because they claim he’s attractive. I don’t see it. When I look at him I see Mickey Mouse. But I’m not a woman and I’m assured by many of them that this guy is a sex symbol. I’ll just have to take their word for it. One thing I know is that he doesn’t have the timing to do Shaw or Tom Stoppard, much less Brantley and Reilly.

Maybe a top director expert in fast-paced, clever dialogue could have helped, someone like Melvin Frank (1955’s “The Court Jester” and 1973’s “A Touch of Class”). But Clooney and Zellweger are stuck with, well, Clooney, who also directed. To be diplomatic, neither his acting nor his directing in this constitute George’s finest hours. And he can do good work, witness “Good Night and Good Luck” (2005). In fact, the crew contains several veterans of that very good movie.

Then there’s continuity. The climactic scenes are a professional football game between Dodge’s Duluth Bulldogs and Chicago, the team of his rival, Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (John Krasinski, who gives the best performance in the movie). It’s a game played during a rainstorm and the field is so muddy that nobody can tell one player from the other; so bad, in fact that one can’t tell one team from another. Yet when the game is over, Dodge walks across a completely dry field; a minor point, maybe, but indicative of the quality of the filmmaking.

The plot is Hollywood balderdash. Instead of concentrating on the dim dawning of professional football, the film presents Lexie as a newspaper writer trying to expose Carter as a phony war hero. In her pursuit she gets romantically involved with him and Dodge and the start of the NFL takes a back seat.

Which leads to another problem. Dodge is 45 years-old in 1925, which would put his graduation from college around 1901, when college football was in its infancy. There was no such thing as professional football until the mid-teens, when club teams started to appear, sponsored by businesses. Yet we are to believe that Dodge has been playing football for a living all those years, a dubious premise at best.

Unfortunately, this is such a cartoon that it provides little of interest, and I am an NFL fan. The facts are that the NFL was founded in 1920 by George Halas, comprising some of the club teams. This film is very loosely based on John McNally, who played under the name “Johnny Blood” so he could retain his college eligibility, but it also raises memories of Halas hiring Red Grange, who was a college star at Illinois, to play for his Chicago Bears, an event that provided great impetus for the ultimate success of the NFL.

There are some interesting supporting performances by Jonathan Pryce as Crash’s avaricious agent and Stephen Root as a drunken sportswriter. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel and the production design by Jim Bissell deserve better. In fact, they are so good that they almost make up for the many deficiencies of this film.

A better film based on the birth of the NFL could be fascinating. This frivolous effort doesn’t even come close.

April 1, 2008