Dean Smith (1931-2015)
February 8, 2015 2:05 PM   Subscribe

Legendary former University of North Carolina men's basketball coach Dean Smith has died at the age of 83 (NYT obit).

Sports Illustrated: The son of Baptist schoolteachers, raised in the railroading town of Emporia, Kans., Smith played positions -- quarterback, point guard, catcher -- in high school that foreshadowed the career he would choose. In much the same way his major at Kansas, mathematics, prefigured the analytical approach he brought to North Carolina, which named him at 30 to succeed his boss, Frank McGuire.

Charlotte Observer: It was Smith’s players, however, who most appreciated who he was and what he did. “He’s a father figure to a lot of players and a lot of people,” former UNC star Michael Jordan said on the day Smith announced his retirement. “He’s always been very genuine in his attitude toward the players. The education he tried to give to the players was more as a person and not so much as a basketball player, which I think has a lot more bearing and meaning to individuals.” Smith's 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 descendant 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 lessons learned in Kansas along at North Carolina, adding more than a few of his own. He tutored perhaps the game's greatest player, Jordan, who burst onto the national stage as a freshman on Smith's 1982 national title team, and two of basketball's most successful coaches, fellow Hall of Famers Larry Brown and Williams.

Time: His players could have compiled more impressive individual statistics at other schools. But college is supposed to prepare you for the real world. No players were more prepped for the NBA than Smith’s. “He taught you everything — shooting, passing, positional defense,” says former North Carolina star Mike O’Koren, who spend eights seasons in the NBA from 1980-1988. “He never limited what he would teach you because of your size or anything.” O’Koren remembers getting the ball on a fast break during his freshman season, and hitting an open jump shot. A few possessions later, he took a similar shot — and missed with the defense in his face. The horn blared, and O’Koren was out of the game. “I don’t know about that shot Mike,” Smith said to O’Koren, now an assistant at Rutgers. “Coach, I was feeling it,” O’Koren replied. Smith: “Well, why don’t you go feel the bench now.” Furthermore, Smith protested, among other things, the Vietnam War, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the death penalty. In 1998, according to a story in the University Gazette, Smith appeared at a clemency hearing for a death-row inmate and told then-Governor Jim Hunt, right to his face, "You're a murderer. The death penalty makes all of us murders."

In other words, yes, Dean Smith was a basketball coach. But he wasn't just a basketball coach. He's a man who touched the life of the greatest basketball player to ever live ... and also millions of other lives in countless and crucial ways. He never settled for a whistle and a ball, never stayed in his so-called lane, never stopped trying to make things better until a cruel disease robbed him of his mind.


Precious Memories: Dementia has taken its toll on former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, but family and devoted friends stand by the beloved coach. [previously]

1982 NCAA Final--Michael Jordan's gamewinner.
posted by MoonOrb (30 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The last three minutes of Smith's funeral will take approximately forty-five minutes in real time, depending on how many fouls the eulogists have available to give.
posted by delfin at 2:14 PM on February 8, 2015 [18 favorites]

Adam Lucas is on point, and absolutely heartbreaking, as always:

In the next few hours and days, as the tributes to the legendary man pour in, you are going to hear all of the incredible stories again. Some you may hear for the first time. Some you may hear for the hundredth time. These stories are true, and you should remember all of them, because now it’s our job to pass them down. Don’t embellish them. They don’t need it. They are good enough with just the facts.

posted by damayanti at 2:21 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Benway at 2:27 PM on February 8, 2015

posted by oceanjesse at 3:05 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

ESPN commercial from my school days.
posted by LionIndex at 3:14 PM on February 8, 2015

Until I was around 18 or 19, I would have felt 100% comfortable saying: I do not like sports. I don't like them, I don't get them, I don't understand people who enjoy them, they are alien to me.

Then I went to UNC. '06 to '10.

I still, intellectually, think sports are kinda silly. I mean, technically. But the way I felt when the Heels won the national championship in 2009 can never, ever be replicated.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:31 PM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]

posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:35 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dean Smith was not a reason for me to attend UNC, but he definitely became a reason to stay.

posted by infinitewindow at 3:36 PM on February 8, 2015

I grew up "hating" Dean Smith. His teams were just so good, and he coached them so well that the times our team did beat his team there was an extra jolt of adrenaline in it because we beat the guy who kept luring away great recruits from our state, who kept dominating, whose teams were so strong. I didn't think about who he was as a man, just as this powerful force keeping my team down. He was the Goliath, even when our team wasn't David.

As I got older, and learned more about the man himself, that "hatred" shrank to 4, maybe 6 hours a year. This is a man who was hung in effigy on the campus for the crime of losing to Wake Forest, but still went out in 1960s North Carolina and acted on the principle that all people are created equal and should have equal opportunities and access. He thought you did the right thing because it was the right thing to do. It was hard to not do that, he said. He was pretty remarkable.
posted by julen at 3:39 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by jilloftrades at 3:43 PM on February 8, 2015

For once, the comments are worth reading. So many examples of this guy taking a minute out of his day that he didn't have to in order to make someone else's day better. Here's one example from the Times obit comments:
As the Sports Editor of the UNC student newspaper during Michael Jordan's sophomore and junior seasons, I got to know Coach Smith better than most, traveling with the team to away games and talking with him regularly throughout the year. Some 10 years later, posted to Sri Lanka as a Peace Corps volunteer, I wrote him a letter asking for a favor on behalf of a young Tar Heel fan who had broken his collarbone in a high school rugby game. A few weeks later -- faster than replies to my aerogrammes typically came from family back home -- I had a Dean Smith-autographed Carolina basketball yearbook to deliver to the recovering young athlete, the son of the Peace Corps nurse. "Get well soon, Jesse. Dean Smith." Coach Smith was a unique human being whose humility and dignity made a lasting impression on all those who had the privilege of crossing his path. May he rest in peace.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:52 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

RIP, Coach. As one of my friends said about the Four Corners offense when it made its debut, and people were griping, "Aren't passing and dribbling supposed to be part of the game, too, not just scoring?"
posted by LeLiLo at 5:11 PM on February 8, 2015

Thanks for pointing that out ultraviolet catastrophe. A couple more choice ones:

I was a graduate student at UNC, 1981-1986. When they were building the "Deandome", there was a bit of a hubbub about fund raising, with some new big donors said be getting dibs on the best seats for season tickets, at the expense of some people who had for many years helped the players scholastically, etc. When asked about the fund raising effort, Dean Smith said, "If people want to donate to UNC, I think they should give to the library". Another lesson in how to behave from a class act.


Not mentioned was the fact that Coach Smith was a big Title IX supporter. If memory serves, when he was finally cornered into endorsing Nike, he donated the "sneaker money" to the UNC Athletic Department, having the funds evenly divided between men's and women's programs.

On that last note, one of my favorite quotes from Dean was, as referenced here, insisting that Carolina was a women's soccer school, not a basketball school. He was always ready to shine the spotlight on somebody else, and you saw that come through in his coaching and how his players played.
posted by damayanti at 5:20 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks, Dean Smith, for all you did for my home state.

(Tar Heels of a certain age may notice that my Metafilter name is borrowed from an obscure Carolina player.)
posted by Buckley at 5:29 PM on February 8, 2015

Duke grad here with nothing but love and respect. Giving thanks for a life well-lived, on and off the court.

posted by 4ster at 5:29 PM on February 8, 2015

One of my favorite players growing up was Phil Ford running the four corners for the Tar Heels. Then, as I got a little older, I realized it was Dean Smith who pioneered the four corners. Then I went to UVa and watched an inferior team beat Ralph Sampson and the Cavaliers (Wahoos!) by taking the air out of the ball. Well, I hated the four corners after that, but I respected Dean.

More than a great basketball coach with a nasally voice, Coach Smith was a terrific member of the community advocating for those who couldn't themselves, for those who earned it and for basic human rights. Not your typical dumb jock athlete/coach.

I now have family in Chapel Hill. Whenever I go visit, I make a pilgrimage to Carmichael and the Dean Dome.

You were one of the truly good men Dean Edwards Smith. RIP

posted by 724A at 6:58 PM on February 8, 2015

posted by griffey at 7:07 PM on February 8, 2015

posted by Rock Steady at 7:12 PM on February 8, 2015

posted by TwoStride at 7:26 PM on February 8, 2015

My grandfather died a little over a month ago, I'm not ashamed to say that his death had a smaller effect on me than Coach Smith's. My grandfather was just a man, he was a good man, but i knew he would pass away; the idea of North Carolina existing without Dean Smith...I just can't handle that. It's weird to have it made so stark, but Dean Smith meant more to me than I realized.

I didn't attend UNC. I left the state for college, and haven't been back for more than a month in the little over a decade since. I grew up watching UNC, lying on the floor, with my grandmother watching over me, swearing like a sailor at Coach Smith when they lost, praising him like a preacher when they won, often in the same breath. Some of my earliest memories are that. That's what Carolina means to me, and Dean Smith made that for me. UNC is my biggest connection to the state these days, and Dean Smith also always gave me a way to be proud of that connection. He was a winner, sure, but he was also a good man, a man of principle, a man who stood up for what mattered. Even if he never beat Duke, he'd have made the world a better place. That he beat Duke regularly, doesn't hurt, of course.

I know his last years were painful. I'm happy he's at peace, but God damn it, I'm going to miss him.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:01 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

🏀(thanks, oceanjesse)
posted by Cranberry at 8:28 PM on February 8, 2015


For a good man. For all the good people, known and unknown.
posted by jadepearl at 5:15 AM on February 9, 2015


Another Duke person here with nothing but respect. He'll be missed.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:57 AM on February 9, 2015

First Stuart Scott, and now Dean Smith.

Its a rough 2015 for Tar Heels. My condolences.

I'll see you in a bit at the big dance.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:27 AM on February 9, 2015

Until I was around 18 or 19, I would have felt 100% comfortable saying: I do not like sports. I don't like them, I don't get them, I don't understand people who enjoy them, they are alien to me.

Then I went to UNC. '06 to '10.

I still, intellectually, think sports are kinda silly. I mean, technically. But the way I felt when the Heels won the national championship in 2009 can never, ever be replicated.

Welcome to the congregation (or drug den)

Please keep trying to replicate those feelings every spring at the Big Dance. Most years will be horrible, but decades of bad years are worth that one magical year where everything falls into place, and your team wins their last 6 games in a row...
posted by hal_c_on at 8:30 AM on February 9, 2015

I hope he never knew about the academic scandal, which would have broken his heart.
posted by thelonius at 10:20 AM on February 9, 2015

Grantland's Obituary. Not much that hasn't already been said, but worth reading.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:37 AM on February 9, 2015

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