CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Former UNC basketball head coach and longtime assistant Bill Guthridge passed away at the age of 77 on Tuesday night. UNC confirmed the news on Wednesday.
Guthridge, who served as Dean Smith’s assistant for 30 years before replacing his mentor in 1998, was diagnosed with amyloidosis of the heart 6-7 years ago. Amyloidosis is a rare disease that occurs when amyloids (abnormal proteins) build up on tissues or organs. It has no cure.
Chuck Duckett, a UNC Board of Trustees member and longtime friend of the Guthridge family, said the last year has been rough as Guthridge had been in 24-hour nursing care at The Cedars of Chapel Hill, a continuing care retirement community.
As UNC’s head coach, Guthridge earned consensus National Coach of the Year honors in 1998 and led the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in his three seasons. He set the NCAA record for wins by a first-year head coach in directing UNC to a 34-4 record in 1997-98.
Guthridge posted an 80-28 record in his three seasons as UNC’s head coach and played a role in 867 wins during his 33 seasons on the bench in Chapel Hill. He joined Smith’s staff in 1967 after working as Tex Winter’s assistant at Kansas State for five years.
The Parsons, Kan. native played or coached in 14 Final Fours, the most by any individual in NCAA history.
The UNC community provided plenty of support as Guthridge’s health deteriorated.
“Dick Baddour has been incredible to him, and so has Joe Holladay,” Duckett said. “They took him to lunch every week at Finley or Sutton’s.”
Duckett, who established the Bill Guthridge Distinguished Professorship in Mathematics along with John Burress in 1998, first met Guthridge at a UNC basketball camp when he was 10 years old. Duckett served as a basketball manager for four years, including UNC’s national championship season in 1982.
Guthridge matched Smith’s demands for responsibility and accountability for every aspect of the basketball program. When Duckett missed a class, he soon after received a phone call to meet Guthridge at Finley Golf Course at 7am to run five miles.
“He was just an absolute, 100 percent honest person,” Duckett said. “He was plain spoken. He expected people to do the right thing, but he led by example. He wasn’t a big ‘out front guy’ like Coach Smith.
“He was the best No. 2 that’s ever been. He was the perfect No. 2. Coach Smith couldn’t have done all he did without him.”
Statements courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications
“It’s another tremendous loss for our University, our basketball program and our entire community. He was extremely special, important to every player, every coach who ever worked here. He was even more important to me. Not only did he coach me on the freshman team, he was my coach, another mentor, a friend, a father figure, a big brother for me just like he was for so many players. He was an unbelievable assistant to Coach Smith. Coach Smith had so many strengths and very few weaknesses, and the weaknesses that he did have Coach Guthridge tried to fill. He tried to do every one of those little things that drove Coach Smith crazy. He was a perfect sidekick for Coach Smith. He stayed (rather than leave for a head coaching job at another university) because he was enjoying what he was doing and why leave something you know is good for the unknown. At one point he thought he wanted to be a head coach, but he also decided that he really enjoyed Coach Smith and the program here and why should he leave when he has what he thought was the perfect job.”
ACC Commissioner John Swofford:
“Bill was uniquely special. He was a kind soul with a strong, competitive spirit. A relatively quiet man with a wonderful and dry sense of humor. A tremendously loyal person with an ego that was seemingly non-existent. I don’t think I have ever heard of anyone that didn’t like and respect Bill Guthridge. Just a really good man who made Carolina, the ACC and college basketball better.”
Former UNC Director of Athletics Dick Baddour:
"Bill was one of the most respected and admired people I have known. If you played for him you loved him; working with him was a joy. The University of North Carolina has lost a dear friend, as have I, and I know that we will all miss him greatly."
"I'm extremely saddened by the passing of Coach Guthridge, aka "Coach Gut,” especially coming so close to the loss of Coach Smith. He, like Coach Smith, was more of a mentor and father figure than anything else. His legacy and contributions to my life and to our University will live on and he'll be much more remembered for his sense of humor and class just as much as his coaching."
"This is another terrible loss for the Carolina basketball family," former North Carolina player and current Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Coach Guthridge was instrumental in recruiting me to UNC and I have so many great memories of him and the lessons he taught me. I will miss his kindness and wisdom. My sympathies go out to his wife, Leesie, and their kids and family."
Linnea Smith (wife of Dean Smith) and the Smith family:
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Guthridge. He was a fellow teacher and colleague to Dean for more than thirty years and a friend and confidant for even longer. He’ll be missed by our family and the entire UNC community. We offer our condolences and our prayers to the Guthridge and UNC basketball families."
Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham:
“Bill Guthridge was a gentlemen coach, but a fierce competitor, and an incredibly loyal member of Dean Smith’s staff for three decades. When it was his turn as head coach, he immediately won an ACC championship and took two teams to the Final Four. I learned very quickly when I came to Chapel Hill how beloved and respected he was by people all across this community. His loss is deeply felt by our university and the basketball world. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.”
Chancellor Carol L. Folt:
“The Carolina community mourns the passing of Bill Guthridge, a great coach, devoted friend and loyal Tar Heel. For more than three decades, Coach Guthridge served this University he loved so much with a deep commitment to academic and athletic excellence. Like his lifelong friend and mentor, Coach Dean Smith, he led by example instilling values of kindness, discipline and a strong work ethic. His legacy lives on in each of the players who were privileged to call him Coach and countless Tar Heels and people across the nation who admired him. We offer our deepest condolences to the Guthridge family as they grieve the loss of a wonderful husband and father.”
Bill Guthridge Passes Away
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