On Saturday Feb. 7, 2015, Dean Smith, one of the all time greatest coaches in college basketball history passed away. It wasn’t so much that he was a great basketball coach as it was about how he coached young men along the road of life.
As many of you know, I was an NCAA college basketball referee for 17 years. My first experience with Coach Smith was somewhere around 1983 when I was assigned to work a scrimmage game at UNC. It has always stuck in my mind as to how everything during that scrimmage/practice session was timed, precise and disciplined. Outstanding processes to say the least.
When a player was corrected or coached by any of the members of the coaching staff, the comments were always followed with a “Yes sir, no sir.” Not a lot of discussion from the player’s side.
The previous week I had worked a similar scrimmage at the University of Maryland coached by Lefty Driesell. The environment was totally the opposite. Lefty never achieved the type of success that Dean had. There’s a lot to be said about running a disciplined organization.
Dean Smith coached from 1961 to 1997 and retired with 879 victories. His teams won two national championships and appeared in 11 Final Fours.
Even greater than all his wins is that 96.6% of his athletes received their degrees! Coach Smith recruited the university’s first African-American basketball player, Charlie Scott.
Though Dean Smith didn’t actually invent the four corners offensive tactic, he made it famous. Today’s shot clock is a result of Coach Smith’s utilization of the four corners.
Coach Smith also instituted the practice of starting all his team’s seniors on the last home game of the season (“Senior Day”) as a way of honoring the contributions of the subs as well as the stars. In a season when the team included six seniors, he put all six on the floor at the beginning of the game – drawing a technical foul rather than leave one of them out. (I bet you didn’t know that one.)
Perhaps his most famous player was Michael Jordan. It’s often stated in a joking manner that Dean Smith is the only person to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points. Coach Smith’s teams were all about teamwork. Even Michael Jordan had to pass the ball under Coach Smith’s offense.
Michael stated: “Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach – he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”
What will they say about you? That’s all I’m gonna ask, Tommy Gibbs