Sunday, February 8, 2015

Former Jayhawk, UNC coaching legend Dean Smith dies at 83

This Dec. 8, 2006 file photo shows former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith speaking during a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. President Barack Obama will bestow the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Smith and several others later this year.

This Dec. 8, 2006 file photo shows former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith speaking during a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. President Barack Obama will bestow the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Smith and several others later this year.


Dean Smith, the Hall of Fame innovator who won two national championships at North Carolina along with an Olympic gold medal while coaching some of the game's biggest names like Michael Jordan, has died. He was 83.

The retired coach died "peacefully" at his Chapel Hill home Saturday evening, the school said in a statement Sunday from Smith's family. He was with his wife and five children.

Smith had health issues in recent years, with the family saying in 2010 he had a condition that was causing him to lose memory. He had kept a lower profile during that time. His wife, Linnea, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf from President Barack Obama in November 2013.

Roy Williams, the current North Carolina coach who spent 10 years as Smith's assistant, said Smith "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people."

"I'd like to say on behalf of all our players and coaches, past and present, that Dean Smith was the perfect picture of what a college basketball coach should have been," Williams said in a statement. "We love him and we will miss him."

In a statement, Jordan said Smith was "more than a coach — he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it."

In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Smith influenced the game and how it is played in ways that are unrivaled.

His "Four Corners" time-melting offense led to the creation of the shot clock to counter it. He was the first coach at North Carolina, and among the first in the segregated South, to offer a scholarship to a black athlete. The now-common "point to the passer," in which a scorer acknowledges a teammate's assist, started in Chapel Hill and became a hallmark of Smith's always humble "Carolina Way."

He was a direct coaching descendent of basketball's father, James Naismith, playing and later coaching at Kansas for the inventor of the game's most famous student, Jayhawks coach Phog Allen.

Smith would pass along lessons learned in Kansas at North Carolina, adding more than a few of his own. He tutored perhaps the game's greatest player in Jordan — who burst onto the national stage as a freshman on Smith's 1982 national title team alongside stars James Worthy and Sam Perkins — and two of basketball's most successful coaches, fellow Hall of Famers Larry Brown and Williams.

The numerical record of his accomplishments is staggering. His only losing season came in his first, and he left the game having surpassed Kentucky's Adolph Rupp as the winningest men's basketball coach in Division I history.

"We have lost a man who cannot be replaced," said Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached against Smith at rival Duke and ultimately surpassed his career wins record. "He was one of a kind and the sport of basketball lost one of its true pillars."

Smith led the Tar Heels to 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships, appearances in 11 Final Fours, five national title games, and NCAA championships in 1982 and 1993. North Carolina won at least 20 games in each of his final 27 seasons, and made 23 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Along the way, more than 95 percent of Smith's lettermen graduated from one of the nation's premier public universities.

His devotion to a humble, team-first philosophy — the famed "Carolina Way" — bred a fierce loyalty among the Tar Heels. Williams was an enormous success at Kansas, able to resist returning to his alma mater in 2000. He could not do so three years later when Smith called, and Williams tearfully left the Jayhawks behind after 15 seasons and returned to Chapel Hill.

When North Carolina held a reunion for school's 1957 and 1982 championship teams in 2007, Smith drew the largest applause from the crowd, even as he stood alongside Jordan and fellow Tar Heel greats Worthy and Phil Ford. During the ceremony, Jordan put his arm around Smith and kissed him on the head.

Smith remained in the background after his retirement, keeping an office at the Dean E. Smith Center — the arena that opened while he was still coaching in 1986. He often consulted North Carolina players as they considered whether to leave school early for the NBA, and would occasionally watch Williams direct practice and take notes. He was hesitant to give them to his former assistant, fearful of suggesting something that might not work.

Though he never ran for office, Smith also helped shape political and social views in North Carolina as coach of the state's beloved Tar Heels. At the urging of his pastor, he recruited blacks to his team, and in 1967 made Charlie Scott the first black scholarship athlete at North Carolina and one of the first in the South.

He was active in politics, often supporting Democrats and liberal candidates. He donated money to the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and Bill Bradley, and supported former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — a North Carolina alumnus — in his two presidential bids before later endorsing Obama.

Smith's church served as a base for his advocacy. He joined the Baptist congregation soon after arriving in Chapel Hill, helping build it from a 60-person gathering on campus to a full church with 600 parishioners. It was booted from the Southern Baptist Convention and the North Carolina Baptist State Convention in 1992 for licensing a gay man to minister.

"He was willing to take controversial stands on a number of things as a member of our church — being against the death penalty, affirming gays and lesbians, protesting nuclear proliferation," said Robert Seymour, the former pastor at Binkley Baptist Church. "He was one who has been willing to speak out on issues that many might hesitate to take a stand on."

Born Feb. 28, 1931, in Emporia, Kan., the son of public school teachers, Dean Edwards Smith graduated from the University of Kansas with a communications degree in 1953. He played for the Jayhawks teams that won the NCAA title in 1952 and finished second the next year.

He served as an assistant coach at Kansas to Allen and Dick Harp before joining the Air Force. He was an assistant basketball coach at the Air Force Academy, and also the baseball and golf coach for a year, before leaving in 1958 to join Frank McGuire's staff at North Carolina. When McGuire left to coach in the NBA in the summer of 1961, the university tapped the 30-year-old Smith to take over.

Smith went 8-9 in his first season. In January 1965, in his fourth season, the Tar Heels returned to campus from a loss at Wake Forest to find an effigy of Smith hanging from a tree outside Woollen Gymnasium.

But Smith never had a losing season after his first. His breakthrough came in the 1966-67 season, when he led the Tar Heels to a 26-6 record. The season ended with the first of three straight ACC tournament titles and Final Four trips. His 1968 team lost in the final to Lew Alcindor and UCLA.

The Tar Heels lost in the title game twice more, in 1977 against Marquette and in 1981 against Bob Knight's Isiah Thomas-led Indiana, before Smith won his first NCAA championship in 1982. In one of the tournament's most enduring highlights, Jordan knocked down a 16-foot jumper in the final seconds to give the Tar Heels a 63-62 win against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in New Orleans.

"A great writer in Charlotte once said that it was our system that kept us from winning the national championship," Smith said after the game. "It's the most ridiculous comment ever made and I always wanted to say that. We don't have a system. We try to use our talent."

Smith won his final championship in 1993 with a balanced team that won 34 games. Once in the Final Four, the Tar Heels beat Williams' Jayhawks and Michigan's "Fab Five" to claim another title in the Big Easy.

Smith retired in October 1997 with a career record of 879-254, having surpassed Rupp's record of 876 victories during the NCAA tournament that March.

Knight overtook Smith's win total in 2007 while at Texas Tech, and the combustible coach summoned an Associated Press writer afterward, upset that he'd forgotten to publicly thank Smith following the game.

Smith seemed uncomfortable with the attention that came with breaking Rupp's record. When Knight was on the verge over taking it over, Smith noted with a sarcastic smile, "I'm going to cry about that."

"But still, it's something that, we do it for the team," Smith said. "When they're excited, that's why we're in this field. I'm sure it's that way with Bob Knight. It's never one of his goals and certainly was never one of mine."

More than 50 of Smith's players went on to play professionally in the NBA or the ABA, and more played overseas. Among them: Walter Davis, Brad Daugherty, J.R. Reid, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. Along with Williams and Brown, the only coach to win both an NCAA and NBA title, former Tar Heels with successful coaching careers include George Karl and Eddie Fogler.

In addition to wife Linnea, Smith is survived by daughters Sandy, Sharon, Kristen and Kelly; son Scott; and several grandchildren.


Aaron Paisley 6 years, 11 months ago

A great man that had a huge impact on the game of basketball. Proud to call you a fellow alumus even if you graduated several decades before I was even born.

Joe Ross 6 years, 11 months ago

As he has passed, certainly any animosity that some of us have felt toward him should die as well. The fact is, Dean Smith was a great man, a good soul, cared genuinely about people, and was one hell of a basketball coach.

Condolences to the UNC family, who has lost two great sports figures in as many months (Stu Scott). God's grace to all of you.

Say hi to Coach Allen for us, Coach Smith. You've got a little while to talk some hoops.

Bill Kackley 6 years, 11 months ago

He was a member of the first Jayhawk team I ever saw play. The 1952 National Champion Jayhawks. Although I will always wear the crimson and the Blue proudly, there is a place in my heart for Dean Smith's Carolina Blue.

Mike Riches 6 years, 11 months ago

This is a very nice article, thank you for posting it here. Our condolences to the Smith family and to all those who mourn his passing. Indeed he changed much more than the game of basketball.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years, 11 months ago

My heart and prayer goes to Dean Smith and family. His legacy will always stay here, at KU & fans.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 11 months ago

We as Kansas fans owe Dean Smith a great debt for indirectly contributing to the modern success of Jayhawk basketball.

After Ted Owens' firing in 1983, it was Smith who suggested that Monte Johnson hire one of his disciples, Larry Brown. Brown brought Kansas a Big 8 regular season title, two Big 8 Tournament titles, two Final Fours and a national title.

When Brown left, Smith suggested that Bob Frederick hire his assistant, Roy Williams. Williams brought Kansas five Big 8 titles, four Big 12 titles, a Big 8 Tournament title, three Big 12 Tournament titles, four Final Fours and two national finals appearances.

When Smith lured Williams back to UNC, he cleared the way for Bill Self to come to Kansas, who has, of course, brought us 10 Big 12 titles, six Big 12 Tournament titles, two Final Fours, a national title and another national finals appearance.

Dean Smith's behind-the-scenes work helped to bring Kansas back to national prominence after years of mediocrity under Dick Harp and Ted Owens. For that, we as Jayhawk fans are forever in his debt.

RJ King 6 years, 11 months ago

Wow Bryce, you just grew up with this post. I like the new you. Perhaps a little of Dean's mentoring into manhood has rubbed off. :-)

Walter Bridges 6 years, 11 months ago

I have great respect for Coach Smith. Very few coaches have or ever will make a greater impact on the game - I still love his 4 corner offense before the shot clock era.

I agree with everything Bryce says above except that when he lured Williams back after two previous times, he wasn't concerned about KU basketball or who filled the position. Dean got Williams valuable experience at Kansas then wanted Williams to continue his legacy at UNC. Dean gets no credit from us landing Self.

I'm not bothered by this at all but it clearly shows he was a Tarheel first and always. He coached 36 years at UNC and I don't see how he could feel otherwise. I'm certain most would feel the same as he did..

But not me.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 11 months ago

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Smith was at all concerned about Kansas when he brought Williams back to North Carolina in 2003. I'm only saying that his actions led to us bringing on another successful coach in Bill Self. If anything, Smith inadvertently made it possible for Kansas to enjoy MORE success under Self than Williams. Self has more conference titles in 11 years (10) than Williams did in 15 (9), more conference tournament titles for Kansas (6) than Williams (4), and brought the NCAA title to Lawrence that Williams could never seem to bring to Mt. Oread. And oh by the way, Self is 4-1 all-time against Williams - 1-1 in UofI-KU games and 3-0 in KU-UNC games.

Walter Bridges 6 years, 11 months ago

I figured that and I agree w/all the above. My only point was that he was a Tarheel first and after 36 years at UNC, he probably should be. He took over a program mired in scandal and built it into one of history's most successful.

Tom Jones 6 years, 11 months ago

I bear no vitriol for him regarding 2003. Roy (and to a lesser extent, the media) were to blame for the circus that became. Some folks blame Smith for making our players think about the UNC thing during the Final Four but I do not. They were actually playing pretty damn well in that tournament. Roy's potential coaching move didn't seem to affect them as they beat probably the best team in that tournament, Arizona, and then destroyed Marquette.

Sometimes you just don't make shots. That's what happened against Syracuse. Not some Dean Smith conspiracy theory.

No disrespect for Coach Smith, and obviously Alzheimer's is a horrible ordeal for everyone involved, but...

My favorite Dean Smith moment was when he got tossed from the Final Four game against KU.

Erich Hartmann 6 years, 11 months ago

You said it best: "sometimes you just dont make shots". That applies to the KU-KY game in 2012, where we buried ourselves early, and couldnt clear the hump in our comeback attempt. Some of the FT misses (to the season avg) and 3 missed dunks alone would have put KU ahead of KY.

Same story of '03 against Syracuse: FTs. Painfully so.

Michael Lorraine 6 years, 11 months ago

I’ve always liked Dean and find it a bit disheartening that so many KU people never forgave him. I admit I was troubled by how things played out in ’03. Felt he could have shown more consideration to his alma mater. But it never bothered me that he was more loyal to UNC. To put it in perspective, KU has lost an uncle but the Tar heels have lost a father. I hope those that have held a grudge can now reconcile their feelings toward him and recognize him for what he was, a great man who was a Kansas grad.

RJ King 6 years, 11 months ago

My favorite Dean reference is something along the lines of:

Question: "How do you stop Michael Jordan from scoring?"

Answer: Dean Smith

Walter Bridges 6 years, 11 months ago

I remember it a little differently: Who's the only one who could stop Jordan from scoring more than 20 pts a game?

Dean Smith

Janet Olin 6 years, 11 months ago

I acknowledge Coach Smith's skills and impressive resume, as well as his positive contributions toward integrating college basketball. I am not an admirer from the personal standpoint; I still maintain that distracting the coach from behind the bench during the Final Four (when he was wooing Roy back to UNC) was low if not illegal, and cannot by any reasonable standard be considered doing things 'the right way'. I understand and accept Coach Williams' reasons for leaving KU and wish him the best. I'm sorry Coach Smith suffered from Alzheimer's and harbor no grudge, just not a fan. As the caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer's, I know firsthand how cruel the disease is. May Coach Smith rest in peace.

Eric TheCapn 6 years, 11 months ago

About halfway through, this article turns into an encyclopedic list of facts... at least I think they're all facts?

"Smith went 8-9 in his first season. In January 1965, in his fourth season, the Tar Heels returned to campus from a loss at Wake Forest to find an effigy of Smith hanging from a tree outside Woollen Gymnasium.

But Smith never had a losing season after his first."

Eh... wha?

KJ Quartermaine 6 years, 11 months ago

This is not meant to be disrespectful, so take a deep breath and chill out. My primary memory of Dean Smith, is him stealing Roy Williams away from Kansas immediately after the devastating 2003 title game loss. I remember this quote from Roy: "I couldn't say 'no' to Coach Smith a second time."

I'm not fortune-teller, so I was unsure back in 2003 if Coach Self would be able to maintain Roy's level of excellence. And I was highly upset. So yeah, Coach Smith stealing Coach Williams is my main memory of the man. That, as well as KU losing to Carolina in the 1993 Final Four. Rest in peace

Erich Hartmann 6 years, 11 months ago

When college basketball loses someone like Dean Smith, it is bigger than KU basketball, or UNC basketball. There was simply a lot more to the man than either school.

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