“We got a nice win on Saturday up at Boston College. We didn’t get off to a great start but sort of hung in there a little bit and made some plays. We were more fortunate than Boston College. Our guys, I thought, were a little tight early in the game. We lose at Louisville and against Virginia, and a lot of teams are going to lose at Louisville and against Virginia, but I thought we were pressing, stressing out a little bit before the game and at the start of the game, but we were able to get through it. And then with all of the stuff going on now, it sort of makes each individual game not very important. But other than that, we’re okay.”
Looking at the photo of Michael Jordan’s winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 championship game, Dean Smith and the rest of the coaches are sitting there with your hands in your lap. Nobody is standing up or anything. Is that just the way Dean carried himself?
“I made that same opinion when I saw the picture the first time myself. Mike O’Koren, a former player, also a good player, he saw the picture for the first time and said the same thing. He said, ‘You guys are sitting there like you’re watching a pickup game and it wasn’t exactly a pickup game.’ Coach was very calm. He always wanted to be prepared. He felt like being prepared allowed you to be confident and calm and to make plays. The timeout before Michael’s shot was one of the most amazing moments of coaching that I had ever witnessed, and still to this day, that I’ve ever witnessed. He was so confident in the timeout, so assuring to our team. When they came over to the huddle, they had a big-time negative look on their face, almost a look of panic, ‘Oh my gosh.’ We’re down one with 32 seconds left or whatever it was.
"And when they left the huddle, they had erased that look completely. They were a very confident and calm team and things were going to work out okay. For the most part, we did stay seated. Coach would get up, but he’d always come back to his seat. I get up quite a bit and try to make sure that I come back to my seat, just because that’s the way I was taught to do it. That’s not saying anything’s wrong with Georgetown’s bench or anybody else’s bench, but he did have a calming effect on everything.”
How often do you hear Dean’s voice in your head as you go about your life? Is it just a matter of mimicking things that he did?
“When I was a freshman here, I played on the freshman team and he would walk by and as we were leaving the court and the varsity was coming on the court to practice, I’d sort of give him a lot of space and stand there with my mouth wide open. And it never really changed. In 10 years as an assistant, I held him on such a pedestal that it was hard to even imagine. And then I go to coach at Kansas for 15 years and it never changed. When I came back here, I’d come back in in the mornings after games and really longed to hit that tape so I could get the message from the night before or to see his notes on the little torn pieces of paper, those little notes that he had written about the game and left them on my desk. He was bigger than big to me, and yet he was so down to Earth, it was unreal.
"And yet, right now, this is my 12th year here. Matt was here three years, Coach Guthridge three years, so if my math’s right that’s 18 years since he’s been the head coach. Every day I walk in the office I think of him. And every time I try to make a decision with my team or with an individual player, I really do try to think what would Coach do. Maybe that shows that I’m not very bright myself that I have to do it that way, but that’s the way I do it.”
How was Dean able to help you be a better man off the court and deal with things in an appropriate manner outside of basketball?
“Well, they’re all together. I don’t think you can separate them. Every day, I felt like as an assistant for 10 years, he was preparing me to be a head coach. He was preparing me to make decisions, trying to make me think and not just make suggestions, very flippant suggestions that sometimes me and every other assistant coach try to make. So he was preparing me to be a head coach, but the way he lived his own life and the values that he tried to teach the players all of the time about treating people with respect and dignity is something that I’ve never tried to get away from. And even if its players when I’m talking, they’re supposed to be looking at me, because if they’re talking, I’m looking right at them.
“He was the world’s best with people’s names. Later on he would say, ‘You’re really good,’ or ‘You’re better than I am,’ and I’d say, ‘Coach, I’m not even close.’ But all of those things that are important to people. Everybody likes to be called by their name. ‘Hey Roy’ as opposed to ‘Hey you.’ Just little things like that. Caring about your family. It’s just that he had his own family, but we also had the North Carolina basketball family.”
What did you take away from the way Dean handled his retirement? And how might that relate to you and some of other long-time head coaches in the business?
“He had mulled over it the last couple of summers because the other stuff had gotten [to be] so much of his time, whether it was recruiting or media or alumni meetings or attention to the program. Things year-round, 12 months, 24-7. The other stuff had gotten so it took up so much more of his time than the actual coaching or preparation for coaching, and he didn’t enjoy that. But yet at the end of those summers, he’d gotten re-energized and it was okay. And that summer, he never could. He felt like it was going to be harder and it was, so he decided to make that change. I came six years later and he tried to make me promise that I wouldn’t quit at 66 because at that time, he thought he had quit too early. He missed the game, but he didn’t miss all of the stuff.
"In those six years, after he left and before I came back, I told him, ‘Coach, there’s more stuff now than there ever has been.’ And he said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have enjoyed that at all.’ That’s the sad part. He did have so much left in the tank that he could give our team and our kids, but the other stuff just made it to where it wasn’t fun for him. I think everybody’s got to look at it individually, what’s the best time for you as an individual? What’s the best method? What’s the best way for you to fight it off? Certain times in late January, early February, everybody gets in those doldrums a little bit, so you have to be able to understand and think of the good times. Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems. “
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