Dean Smith: Reflections

The best recollections of Dean Smith come from those he interacted with - players and coaches - throughout his transcendent career and life. Inside Carolina spent Sunday compiling those memories and reflections.

Tom Gauntlett (’63-67):
“When I got there in 1963, Coach Smith was just Coach Smith. He wasn’t the Coach Smith everybody talks about today, the well known Coach Smith. He was just finding his way in coaching and it was interesting to watch him evolve as a coach. He was a disciplinarian. He was an Xs and Os man. He was a brilliant coach. That’s all I can say about that end of it. But he wasn’t as well known then but he treated everyone at that time the same as he treated them later in life. Twenty years later he treated his players the same as when we were there with his first couple teams. So, I distinctly remember that. It’s easier to say now, ‘Oh, he was a great coach,” since he’s won all these championships. But when I played, he hadn’t won anything yet. My senior year was the first year we went to the final four. I remember that the most about him and I remember coming out of high school, going from a high school coach to a guy like him, how much he really cared about you. How much he talked to you as a person, not just a basketball player, which everybody has said, but it’s really true what they’re saying about him. I’ve had people question that about him. People who didn’t know him would say, ‘Was he really like that or are they just saying it?’ You know what? He really was like that. Everything that anybody has ever said about him is very true. People don’t understand, he was a year or two away from losing his job there at one time. He just handled it with a lot of grace, a lot of dignity, he never gave up. He never gave up on our team when we weren’t playing that well. He just worked harder and looked what happened in the end.

Antawn Jamison (UNC player, ’95-98):
"Coach Smith was a coach, mentor and friend. He had a huge impact on my career but had an even bigger impact on my life. I can vouch for all of the things that everyone else has said about him impacting their lives for the best. He was more like a father to me than a coach. In fact, it feels like I’m losing a father. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it wasn’t for Coach Smith. My heart goes out to his family. It’s definitely a sad day for my family and the Tar Heel nation." 

Matt Doherty (UNC player ’80-84, UNC head coach ’00-03):
“That’s why I got into coaching, because I wanted to have a similar impact on young people that he had on his players. I think we were aware that it was special. Everything that was written about the program, we knew it was special and we knew that he was special. His best friends were a reverend and psychologist. He was a guy who had a high intellect but a rare ability to relate to young people. That’s real unique. He’s a guy who enjoyed fancy restaurants but yet could relate to someone who is from lower income, inner city in New York City and make that person feel comfortable that he’s going to take care of their son. He often taught us things that were not basketball related and I’ve said this a few times, he would give us impromptu lessons all the time. I remember one time, we were talking in a meeting and he was explaining how we trapped and who was the goal tender. He said, the person farthest from the trap is the goaltender. He said, you know I used the word farthest and not furthest because far deals with distance. Everytime I’m writing a letter or typing something and I have to use the word further or farther, I think of that time in the locker room 30 years ago.”

Charles Scott (UNC player, ’66-70):
“It’s hard for me to put in words the person that has been the cornerstone of my life. The only thing I can say is that Coach Smith made me a better person than even I thought I could ever be.”

John Swofford (UNC athletics director, ’80-97):
“We’ve known for a while this day would come, but it still hits hard. Sometimes we are blessed to be around certain people in our lives.  For me, one of those people was Dean Smith.  For 21 years I had the privilege of working with him. He personified excellence day-in and day-out, year-in and year-out.  The remarkable number of wins is well chronicled, but most importantly those wins came while teaching and living the right values.  He won, his players graduated and he played by the rules.  He was first and foremost a teacher, and his players were always the most important part of his agenda. His impact on the University of North Carolina, the Atlantic Coast Conference, college basketball and the sport itself, is immeasurable.  His leadership off the court in areas such as race relations and education were less chronicled, but just as important.  Sometimes the word legend is used with too little thought.  In this instance, it almost seems inadequate.  He was basketball royalty, and we have lost one of the greats in Dean Smith.”

Mitch Kupchak (UNC player, ’72-76):
"His influence on my life didn't end when I left Chapel Hill, as he was a trusted and valuable advisor to me when I became a player, then an executive in the NBA. He had a hugely positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young men who were lucky enough to call him Coach, and I was blessed to be among them."

Bubba Cunningham (UNC athletics director, ’11-):
“Dean Smith was a legendary Hall of Fame coach who will long be remembered as an innovator in the game of basketball and a pioneer for social justice. His legacy will always be a part of the University of North Carolina and will continue to inspire students for generations to come.”

Mike O’Koren (UNC player, ’76-80):
"He was a special man. ... Any good university or basketball program or anything needs a leader and coach Smith was the leader of North Carolina and I'm just thrilled that I played for him and knew him."

Dick Baddour (UNC athletic director, ’97-11):
“Dean was the face of the University of North Carolina for many years.  He was a great coach, but an even greater teacher. His legacies are many but what stands out to me is his devotion to his players. While he taught us about the importance of team work, he taught us even more about the importance of relationships.”

Bill Guthridge (UNC head coach ’97-00, UNC assistant coach ’67-97):
“Dean was a great friend and a great coach.  I will miss him dearly.  He was devoted to me and I to him and I will forever be grateful for our friendship.”

Peter Gammons (Sportswriter, UNC ’69):
“When I was at the Daily Tar Heel he called me to his office to meet the great Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated, have lunch, learn interviewing. He always treated me as I were really important, pushed me towards my life in journalism.”

Ranzino Smith (UNC player, ’84-88):
“I was very privileged and fortunate to have the opportunity to play basketball for Coach Smith and to be recruited and offered a basketball scholarship. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget and Coach Smith was not only one of the greatest coaches but also one of the greatest men I’ve ever met. He was like a second father to me. I will forever be grateful of knowing him.I just remember my parents and I were -- right before my senior year of high school -- we were in Coach Smith’s office along with Coach Guthridge and Coach Fogler. Coach Smith offered me a full college scholarship to play at UNC and it was more than a dream come true. I remember just looking at my parents’ faces and just seeing how excited, how happy and how proud they were of me and the moment. My dad was a huge UNC fan, long before I was born. He was more than ecstatic and I just remember the feeling of feeling numb that day. I’d been a UNC fan since I was six years old. So I’d always dreamed, like most kids, not just from North Carolina but all over the United States, they all dreamed of playing for Coach Smith. For me to experience that and fulfill that dream was just unbelievable. I remember the rest of that day when we left Coach Smith’s office, I was just in a fog. I just felt numb all day. I couldn’t believe what had just happened because I knew I had dreamed of playing for UNC and all the hard work that I had put in and had sacrificed to get to that point to have that opportunity to play for him, was unbelievable.”

Jeff Denny (UNC player, ’86-90):
“I would just say that in all the time that I’ve known him, which is now going on 30 years, that he hasn’t wavered in who he is and what his principles are and what he stands for. I never heard him utter a curse word. He got his point across and he certainly yelled and screamed but he didn’t have to use a dictionary of four letter words to be able to do that. He was always incredibly honest, incredibly fair. Those are the things that will stick with me. You certainly can’t take away what he accomplished on the court. His vision. His preparation. What he did for us to make us look good, to make us successful. He always found a way to back out of the limelight and let it be about the players and not about him.When you meet Coach Smith and you start to grasp who he is as a person, what he stands for. In those early conversations, there’s not a lot of talk about basketball. It’s about you as a person and wanting you to succeed in life after basketball and I think that’s his hallmark: what he did to collectively bring over 300 young men together and make us all better human beings. That’s what he wanted for everyone, not just his basketball players. That’s a testament to the man and what he was about and his upbringing. It was about leaving this place better than it was when you got here and there’s no doubt in my mind that very, very, very few people have done it as well as he has and he used a different medium from which to put that method out there. When I did see Coach Smith around, he was always as gracious as he ever was.”

Matt Wenstrom (UNC player, ’89-93):
“First game freshman year, down by 11 with two minutes left to James Madison. Scott Cherry and I at the end of bench are bummed we lost our first game. In the timeout, Coach is calm and gives us the signature "we're right where we need to be speech.” We come back and win. Scott and I vow to never question this man again. Served us well.”

Terrence Newby (UNC player, ’97-00):
“He used to have these pens he wrote with all the time and he caught Ed sleeping one time before and he brought the pen back but he didn’t throw it because Ed woke up. The second time he caught him, he threw the pen and it hit Ed in the right dead in the shoulder and it left a blue stain on that practice jersey and I’ll tell you this, me and Ed ran across that practice jersey not too long ago in Ed’s garage and it still has that blue mark on it from him catching him sleeping … I guess I consider myself lucky to be coming along at that time. Everything I heard this morning on ESPN about how he didn’t really want the notoriety, it was so true. He couldn’t care less about that stuff. The whole time I’m like, this man just accomplished what every coach in America wants to do and he couldn’t care less about it. He talked about us. He gave us all the credit, as far as the players. He was just talking about how fortunate he was to have good players. To me, that just summarized all that he was. He didn’t care about the accolades. He didn’t care about the awards, the press, the acknowledgement that he got. He just always gave credit to the players. The only time he took credit for anything was when we lost a game. He took credit for all the losses but he wouldn’t take credit for the wins because he didn’t play a minute, didn’t take a shot. It was humbling for me to see somebody so much greatness attached to their name react and be the way that he was. It was just amazing to be a part of.”

David Cason (UNC assistant coach, ’01-03) :
“During the "Annual Basketball Talks” that took place in Chapel Hill for former players and friends who were basketball coaches was the highlight of my career at that time. I was intrigued by the coaches who attended and the impact that Coach Smith had on every single one of them. The basketball talks moved from the meeting room to the court. Coach Smith asked for five guys to volunteer to walk through offensive sets. I Immediately jumped at it to be a part of the five. Coach Smith begin to implement an offensive set and before we started running the play, Coach Smith stated that we will be walking through the action.  Well, as we started the play, I begin to walk and that was not a good idea. Coach Smith said, ‘Hey David, when coaches say walk through, we do not mean it literally.’ Everyone at the meeting (25-plus people) started laughing except for Coach Smith. I knew that I messed up, but I immediately corrected my actions for the next offensive set. Later on that day, Coach Smith said, ‘David, I heard that you were quick, but I wanted to see it for myself.’ To this day when I hear the words ‘walk through,’ I immediately think of that exchange with Coach Smith 15-plus years ago. Great Man. Great Teacher. Legend of the Game.”

Steve Smith (Oak Hill Academy head coach):
“I got to know him through him recruiting my players, Mcinnis and Stackhouse. He was an avid golfer like me. One time he invited me down to Governor’s Club in Chapel Hill, called me and told me he had gout in his foot and was going to cancel out. I went down and took a friend, I didn’t know if he was going to play or not. He’s sitting in the parking lot waiting on us, he has a cane, he said ‘I can’t play, but I wanted you to come down.’ We played with Phil Ford, he rolled all 18 holes with us on the cart. But he spent the whole day with us, told stories and talked ball with him for four hours. Probably one of the greatest days of golf I’ve ever had. He didn’t have to do that, it was a great experience. He knew my wife, my kids, my dog, that’s just how he was.”

Carl Torbush (UNC football coach, ’88-00):
“When I think of Carolina the first thing that comes to mind is Coach Dean Smith. His legacy as coach, role model, and man is unparalleled in the world of sports. Two of my most cherished memories are bringing football prospects into his office before important ACC basketball games and Coach Smith spending quality time with them to make them feel special and important. Also, having Coach Smith's blessing on my pursuit to become head football coach is one of my most cherished memories. He will always be Carolina to me and will be truly missed by all.”

Michael Brooker (UNC player, ’96-01) :
“The biggest lesson I learned from Coach Smith is to treat everyone with respect and dignity regardless of who they are or their position. From star player to manager, he treated all well. Before I started coaching high school, I'd meet with him two or three times a year. It was awesome to sit and listen to him impart his wisdom and talk strategy."

Roy Williams (UNC head coach ’03-, UNC assistant ’78-88):
“It’s such a great loss for North Carolina – our state, the University, of course the Tar Heel basketball program, but really the entire basketball world. We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run. We lost a man of the highest integrity who did so many things off the court to help make the world a better place to live in. He set the standard for loyalty and concern for every one of his players, not just the games won or lost. He was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people. His concern for people will be the legacy I will remember most. He was a mentor to so many people; he was my mentor. He gave me a chance but, more importantly, he shared with me his knowledge, which is the greatest gift you can give someone. I’m 64 years old and everything I do with our basketball program and the way I deal with the University is driven by my desire to make Coach Smith proud. When I came back to Carolina, the driving force was to make him proud and I still think that today. 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. We love him and we will miss him.”

Michael Jordan (UNC player, 1981-84):
"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." 

Eric Montross (UNC player, ’90-94):
“His intensity was somewhat guarded because you could be on the receiving end of a critique, and I’ll use one that I remember. It was Brian Reese that stepped out of bounds. This happened in the Final Four; it happened in the championship game, but it also happened in practice earlier. He caught the ball on the sideline and stepped out of bounds. And instead of Coach just getting into him, he said, ‘Brian, do they not have out-of-bounds lines in the Bronx?’ And although to everybody that may seem like a perfectly ridiculous comment, that was one that for us was taking a knife, putting it in and pulling it back out, because it was the most basic concepts of basketball. You don’t put your foot on the out-of-bounds line. That’s a turnover. That’s what we always talk about, limiting turnovers. He had a way of delivering his message with authority, but not being diminutive. And I think that’s a piece of him that was maybe not as appreciated as it should be. He was so careful not to embarrass us. He would correct us and he would let us know when we made a mistake, but he would not ever break us down in front of our peers because he knew that was something that needed to be protected, so he would deliver that message privately.”

Phil Ford (UNC player, ‘74-78; UNC assistant coach, ‘88-00):
“[The media] made a big deal of the social issues that he was pushing, but to us and to me, he was just being Coach Smith. He was just being the good, honest guy that wanted everyone to be treated fairly. Not only on the basketball court, it just happened to carry over in life as well. That was just something that we were proud of him for and that’s part of what made him Coach Smith. I don’t think anyone can ever say, that came here and played here, that they weren’t treated fairly or he wasn’t honest with them.”

Hubert Davis (UNC player, ’88-92; UNC assistant coach, ’12-):
“As soon as we finished practice, we would come to the basketball offices and just spend time hanging out and talking to Coach on his couch, hanging out with Coach Guthridge, developing a relationship. He always believed that if I know you, then I can become a better coach and I can coach you. So he took the time to get to know us. His philosophy was when you left Chapel Hill, he wanted to prepare you in a way so that you were ready to be successful out there in the real world.”

Sherrell McMillan, Matt Morgan, Greg Barnes, Associated Press contributed to this report.

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