Western Michigan assistant coach Larry Farmer is no stranger to being in the NCAA tourney. He won a title during each of his 3 years as a varsity player at UCLA in the early-1970s under HOF coach John Wooden, and his 89-1 overall record gives him the best winning percentage of any player in NCAA history. CHD’s Jon Teitel got to sit down with Coach Farmer to ask him about going undefeated in back-to-back seasons and his team’s chances this Thursday afternoon against Syracuse.
You played at UCLA for HOF coach John Wooden before becoming an assistant under him. What made him such a great coach, and what was the most important thing you ever learned from him? His attention to detail and the constant use of repetition when it came to fundamentals. The second part is tough, but the biggest I lessons learned were about being a man, a husband, and a father.
You are the winningest player in NCAA history, going 89-1 during your three years on the varsity. When you reflect back on those days do you focus on the 89 wins or the one loss? I focus on all of it. It was a journey, and I made some lifelong friendships with my teammates who I still share great stories with.
You won your third straight title in 1973 over Memphis State when Bill Walton set a championship game record that still stands by scoring 44 points on 21-22 from the floor. Where does that rank among the greatest performances you have ever seen, and how do you think Walton would do if he played in this era? He would do very well even today. I did not realize how great a performance he had until I saw the stats afterward, but to be on the floor during that game was special for all of us.
As someone who played on the only team to ever have consecutive undefeated seasons, how impressed are you by this year’s Wichita State team? I am very impressed. It is not easy: you get everyone’s A-game when you are on the road and you have to stay focused and continue to look forward.
As someone who won three straight NCAA titles, what is the key to winning games in March? It is a continuation of everything you have done to build up to that point. You get to enjoy your conference championship up through Selection Sunday…but then you have to get re-focused for the next game as quickly as possible.
Two of your previous head coaching stops were at UCLA and Weber State, who each won conference tourney titles last weekend. How do you think each of them will do in this year’s tourney? I have not seen Weber play this year but it is not an easy league to win so I am thrilled for their staff. I try to watch the Bruins as much as I can, and as an alum I will obviously keep an eye on then and hope they can get to the Final 4.
You have played a pair of fellow tourney teams this year (a win over New Mexico State and a loss to North Dakota State). What did your team learn from those games that you think can help you this week? They were both very early in the year as part of a decent preseason schedule. We play in a tough conference, which has as much of a lasting impact on our preparation because we have seen it all. New Mexico State had great size so we were not intimidated by anyone after that. North Dakota State was very athletic and hurt us both inside and outside, which prepared us to face good teams in our conference.
After losing your final game of January to fall to 11-8, you have won 12 of 13 with the lone loss coming in OT, how has your team been able to elevate its play down the stretch? The guys have gotten better as we had hoped. You can work on fixing inconsistencies during the year when you finally have time to tinker with stuff at practices. We started guarding better, rebounding better, and shooting better.
Senior shooting guard David Brown was named conference tourney MVP on Saturday after scoring 32 points in a 98-77 win over Toledo in the MAC title game. How was he able to play his best when it mattered the most? He is a fifth year senior and a big-time player. He is one of our leaders who steps up and takes matters into his own hands when the game is on the line, so it was no surprise that he was named MVP.
What do you think about your #14 seed, and what do you know about Syracuse? I have seen them on TV and known Coach Jim Boeheim for 30 years. Our seed is what it is: you do not expect to get a great seed when you play in a mid-major conference. Syracuse is a really good team and might be a sleeping giant after losing a few games since their great start. Once you get into the tourney it comes down to 40 minutes where anyone can win.