Legendary coaching gives Bruins edge in title hunt

This week, ESPN.com is looking at a number of great college sports programs that don't garner the attention that they deserve. This is a small sampling of some of the nation's best programs, regardless of sport and division.

Any discussion of the nation's top programs begins and ends with UCLA, which punctuated its perch atop the NCAA championships list with another landmark win.

This spring, the Bruins' women's water polo team brought home the school's 100th NCAA title with a 5-4 victory over Stanford. And while coach Adam Krikorian has had a hand in 13 of those titles -- nine as a head coach, three as an assistant coach and one as a student-athlete -- he has quite a ways to go to catch up to legendary men's volleyball coach Al Scates, who has 19 national championships under his belt.

"As successful as we've been, it's hard to get too excited about it when you know the coach next door has 19," joked Krikorian.

UCLA has won championships in 16 different sports, ranging from big-ticket titles in men's basketball to dynastic streaks in men's tennis, volleyball and softball. The Bruins boast titles in swimming, golf, gymnastics, soccer and track and field as well.

UCLA's success begs the question: How can one school have so much success across the board?

"There's no better job in the country for any sport," Krikorian explained. "You're getting the rare opportunity to work with what I feel are the best coaches in the country in almost every single sport. You work with the best athletes, the best administrators.

"It's a lot of fun, but it's quite humbling. If you're third or fourth in the country, that's just not cutting it. [The school's success] adds a bit of pressure to your job because the expectations are so high, but with that you gain a bit of confidence -- you know you're part of something special, something much larger than yourself and your program. It's a thrilling opportunity."

UCLA has some built-in advantages. It's much easier to attract the best student-athletes to an academically challenging institution in sunny California than, say, North Dakota. And of course, the Bruins' long history of athletic success is tangible evidence for recruits that an NCAA championship is seemingly always within reach.

"I think there are a few reasons why our program is successful," Krikorian said. "One, we're at a great university. Academically, it's one of the best, and it attracts kids that are intelligent and have a burning desire to be successful. Two, we have the right support staff around coaches and players -- whether it's weights, training, coaching, administrative -- everything is in place to be successful. Three, you need talented players, and we've been able to attract talented kids with a tremendous amount of integrity, heart and work ethic. When you add it all together, nothing can go wrong. You've put yourself in a good situation."

But while those ingredients are necessary for any successful program, what sets UCLA apart is the support the coaches receive and the focus on producing not just successful athletes, but successful people as well. Perhaps no coach epitomizes this philosophy more than UCLA's legendary coach emeritus, John Wooden. The Hall of Fame basketball coach led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships (including seven consecutive) in his 27-year reign as the Wizard of Westwood. In his current role, Wooden serves as a friend, confidante, and not surprisingly, coach to the rest of the Bruins' staff.

"All of the coaches at UCLA recognize that we're surrounded by a ton of other coaches -- it would be silly not to take advantage of it. We're especially fortunate to have the greatest coach in of all sports with us as well. There's no better coach, teacher or mentor than Coach Wooden," Krikorian said.

"He doesn't know anything about water polo -- I think he'd be the first one to admit that. But Coach Wooden teaches me more about being a better person, father, husband and coach. He recognizes that we, as coaches, are role models, and it's our job to teach our athletes not just about their sport, but about life as well."

Having Wooden watching out for the athletic department like a wise grandfather certainly gives the Bruins an edge -- one they'll need to stay ahead of fellow West Coast programs Stanford and Southern California, which are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on the NCAA titles list. The Cardinal are six NCAA championships shy of hitting the 100 mark themselves, and USC owns 84 crowns. After the trio of California schools comes a huge drop-off: Oklahoma State holds the No. 4 spot with 48 championships.

But as Krikorian readily admits, while the attention that came with winning the school's 100th title was appreciated, it's just one title.

"[Winning the 100th title] was not our focus," he admitted. "We just wanted to win for the team -- in retrospect, that's easy to say after you win -- but we're very happy to do it for school. I have a love for university and the athletic department that is second to none, and I couldn't be more proud. But in the end, 100 just a number -- there had to be 99 before us. So many great athletes and coaches that have been a part of UCLA athletics have had a hand in this accomplishment."

Lauren Reynolds is the editor of ESPNU.com. She can be reached at Lauren.K.Reynolds@espn3.com.