Q&A with Dean Smith

CHAPEL HILL - Dean Smith met with members of the media Thursday morning at the Smith Center to discuss a variety of topics. Here is a detailed transcript of the hour-long session.

Opening Remarks

I'm still going to the office every day, I'm in town most of the days. I try to leave earlier, but it's amazing how the calls and letters still come. But it's fun – I made a good decision.

Memories of Everett Case -

… When I arrived here in August '58 as an assistant to Frank McGuire – he and Everett were good friends … he was very good to me. When I took over as head coach, he was one of the first calls. He said, ‘Come on over for dinner,' which I did. Had a few laughs. We were under all this probabtion stuff and he laughed and said ‘Ole' Bubas and Bones are licking their chops'- but that might have been after a couple sips … [laughter]

On the increased interest of the NCAA Tournament-

Shows how much I know. I thought as soon as they opened the [NCAA] Tournament to more than one team, I thought that'd be the end of the ACC Tournament. I thought tickets would be easier all of a sudden – heck it helped our Educational Foundation. … It was everything, it was our NCAA Tournament. You win that and you go to the NCAAs and then there was the Tournament of Champions. Nowadays it's common to have a second or third place team in the Final Four. … John Wooden said it'd cheapen the regular season, which it did. But, my gosh, who could have dreamed … It didn't seem fair [at the time], which it wasn't, but it created interest.

On saying what-if about seasons in the 1970s-

I'm sure Lefty did in 1974, but I think in '74 the only teams we lost to were two of three to Maryland and three to NC State. Even with a tough non-conference schedule, those were the only teams we lost to. … '71 we won the regular season, South Carolina beat us in the tournament …

On what his original attraction was to UNC-

What attracted me to Carolina was simply, I knew I wanted to coach and Frank McGuire invited me to coach – there was only one assistant in those days – and they just won the national championship in 1957, Buck Freeman stayed on in '57-'58 and I came in that next season. I had no idea we were members of the Association of American Universities or that we were one of the top 25 schools in the country academically. I had no idea it was this pretty. It was strictly a vocational choice. … I've been here since. I love it, I'm a North Carolinian – I've said that in the political world – like I couldn't go back to Kansas and run for senator [laughter].

The success you created here also created expectations for you and your successors. How did you deal with that and how do you see that carried on?

People say it's harder to be a head coach now, but it's easier [in recruiting] from that standpoint that you're only allowed to go to somebody's home three times. You sign early and you don't have to worry about them. I remember leaving practice flying somewhere … I flew Skymaster to Mansfield, Penn. I counted 17 times. And Skymaster wasn't real quick.

The pressure here, I don't pay too much attention, I don't think Bill Guthridge did … Matt maybe will, but he's younger. My first year I was worried about it … I think you just try to do your job. If you have your team with you, that's the first thing. If your team is with you, fans can say anything. If you have your players with you then you're secure.

It's not easy I guess with the Internet and those things. That is different … but I remember getting emails in '93 and I couldn't read them or understand. There weren't many but I said ‘What's that?' So I know that's when it started.

On the formation of the ACC-

They were excited for the conference because it was a football decision – and I think a good one. I'm all for football. I joke about this being a women's soccer school, but we want all of them to do well. At that time it was strictly a football decision. Basketball wasn't making money and as soon as that happened the athletic directors really started to like their basketball coaches and improved their budget. I remember Chuck Erikson – my $5,000 recruiting budget was up my second year. He said, ‘You can't go to Washington' after my last trip to Bobby Lewis. I said ‘Watch me.' [laughter] I did turn in that expense account and that was maybe the last expense account I turned in. … But I can't think of anyone who wasn't excited about going from the Southern Conference to the ACC. It was too bad South Carolina did pull out – but it was a great decision to bring Florida State into this league because now we have those bowls. I'd of course love to see [college football] go to a tournament, too, but maybe not because as a coach – you've got probably 30 happy coaches and fans.

On Charlie Scott's and television's impact-

Phil Ford said he remembered cheering for Carolina, so that must have helped some. We didn't get who we wanted a lot of times in the 70s and then in the 80s because of television …that had a lot to do with ACC basketball growth. Even today, I walk out this building in the summer and there will be people from Ohio, Pennsylvania, [etc.] who have been Carolina fans and remember watching Carolina games with their grandparents. It really has helped. And I think the new deal with Fox is great from ACC basketball. We're the only game throughout the nation and that should help recruiting.

As far as Charles, I think he came in and we won, too. We'd been to the Final Four his freshman year when all freshmen were ineligible – I won't fight that battle anymore. [laughter] Most thinking people really do think it's best for them. Guys that call … we had one who called and he wanted to come for one year, and I said ‘The whole idea is to come here for school.' And, junior college players would have a better chance to graduate. I know one league where it's hovering around 15 percent of the junior colleges graduate.

When Scott chose UNC over Lefty [Driesell]'s team, was there any animosity between Lefty and yourself?

We became buddies. Joyce invited us to the home. It's funny how that worked. We became friends when I tried to help get him the Auburn job. I thought he'd have been perfect for Auburn. We got to see each other and spend time talking. He invited me to his home and said, ‘It's on a golf course.' I said, ‘Yeah, but you don't play.' He said, ‘No, but …' [laughter] Maybe he just wanted to get rid of me if I did go.

It was tough in the beginning, because I remember when Charles made the decision it wasn't against Lefty. Charles and Lefty are buddies still. It was mainly the environment for him. … but [Lefty] was sometimes upset with me. It's funny, I remember the last Final Four in Indianapolis, 2000, my book had come out and his wife said I've got a bone to pick with you. So I sent her a book (and incidentally I won that thing with her), but Lefty called and said ‘You wouldn't believe, Joyce has me reading your book.' [Reporter asks – "Did he like it?"] I didn't call back. [laughter]

But I am happy for him – he will be inducted in the Hall of Fame this year or next year. He retired because he was felt tired. He had told me he would go until he dropped. … I read Florida State was having more of a problem with that – ‘Will you be there as the head coach?' And that's what really started to get me thinking. I got that question. I always told them the truth – that I didn't know and was taking it a year at a time.

On the wide-open ACC race this year-

Well, I think they're all fighting for the NCAAs, to go back to how it cheapens the regular season. That's what you're playing for, and if you don't make it then you can always win the [ACC Tournament], which Herb Sendek almost did his first year. That was a shock I think for all of us, for that group to come in and play four games to get to the finals. And that's still a possibility, it just doesn't happen often.

I don't know whether we're really that balanced in the ACC. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out down the line. The injury which we had to May – that's huge. I remember telling Matt before the season that we've got to keep Raymond Felton and Sean May healthy. Probably said Rashad, too. Of course the only time I go to practice is when Matt asks me or to sit with some prospect. But I'm available. Matt and I this year have probably talked after every game or before the next one.

What kind of things do you talk to Matt about?

That's between Matt and me. Basically we just talk basketball. I don't talk personnel. If you're a coach and you're with them every day in practice, you know, and that's why we never discuss personnel, just team things. Should we press Virginia?

Can you discuss some of your top memories at UNC?

When camp was over every year. [laughter] And no one drowned and no one got run over. [laughter] That's one of my best. In fact when somebody asks me about camp I run. … I'm lucky I have so many great memories. I remember the ones where I thought I lost the game – I can't get those out of my head.

Do those eat at you more?

Yeah, I'm trying to accept that there are things you can't change. … I can't remember them all, but when someone mentions the ACC Tournament, in 1984 I gave them three days off to try to get them fresh and to get in their head that it was the NCAAs that counts. That was nuts. I thought we were fresh, but they really liked the sun …

Do you watch games now? How is that?

Oh, yeah. To tell you the truth, I listen to Woody and Phil and Mick, they do a great job. When I listen to a national [television broadcast], I'm listening to what they say in terms of how it will effect recruiting. I do listen and I take notes just like I'm scouting our own team. I sit by myself and watch – I'm a nervous wreck. Every one of our games I can now see what fans went through. I never understood that. When you don't have any control whatsoever … I got nervous last night when Virginia came back. … I might yell for somebody to get back on defense. ‘Jawad, get back!' [laughter]

What do you think are changes that should be made to the NCAA?

Oh, gosh, I'll give you the book to read the last chapter. The officials, I'd love for us to go to an elite group from the conference to have them be full time so we have some control. Actually, there's better officiating now. But, still, that's their advocation. To the players it's everything, to the coaches it's everything …but they really are better, because they have camps and trained to get better, but that's where they can improve. Any old coach will say the game was meant for finesse – it's beautiful.

On Phil Ford-

He does a great job for the Educational Foundation. I hope he is back in coaching some day. He knows the game, and the players really look up to him. He had a good shot at the Texas job if Rick [Barnes] had turned it down. [Reporter asks – "Anything recent?"] You know there's one I thought maybe he could have taken a year ago, but he didn't.

Why did basketball become king in what is really a football region?

I think it came about because of Case, McGuire … TV. It can create interest. Henrik Rodl told me ‘You guys need to get on the TV in Berlin.' And now they're on TV on they are packed. I'd like to think writing creates interest, but those guys create interest.

You received heavy criticism early in your career and Matt has experienced that, too. Do you see any similarities?

Which coach hasn't gotten criticism? I don't know of one. It's different from the standpoint that [there is such interest in UNC]. And it helps recruiting. These freshmen were North Carolina fans growing up. Which is nice, that helps. I can't help of a coach that hasn't gotten criticism. Matt said he got criticism when he was national coach of the year his first year. So the main thing is to have your players with you.

Talk to Phog Allen, my college coach. He said, ‘The postman never stops for every dog that barks or else he'd never get his mail delivered.'

On the prospect of paying college players-

I was just in on NCAA committees – ‘just' being '98-'99. Our subcommittee on this … first of all, they are already being paid with tuition and room and board. We did a thing with that $11 billion coming in. You can't just say football. C.M. Newton, Terry Holland and I came up with a $250 a month which is similar to the $15 in my day that everyone got. In '73 the NCAA voted to take away everything to save money. They took away the blazers, the nice Carolina Blue blazers we provided for each players –so poor guy and rich guy have the same uniform. Took away the $15 a month. We thought $250 for every football player on scholarship and every basketball player male and female. Somebody said hockey in New England, and I understand that. But it all got voted down. I've been in more committees over the years. …

On remembereing Michael Jordan's high school skills and reflecting on the lasting impact he's had on the game-

Michael in high school … I remember flying down in practice to see him. … It was actually the first time I had seen him play. He was really a diamond in the rough from the standpoint of skill. The quickness was there, he was 6-foot-3. And gosh I wish I knew what made guys grow. … That guy on Georgia Tech, [Chris] Bosh, heard he grew a lot in high school. Billy Cunningham grew his sophomore year, he was a point guard. So we never figured that out and those are three good ones.

So, Michael got better every year. I did hold him back. [laughter] I said throw the ball inside to Sam [Perkins]. Sam's field goal percentage was 59 percent and Michael's was 54. If Michael had shot 54 percent from the floor in the pros that would be unheard of. I don't know what his [numbers were in the pros], but he had one year that was over 50. Defensively, people forget he has the record for all-NBA defense. That's why I started him, for defensive reasons, his first year.

What impact do you think you had on the ACC?

Coaches, their teams impact the league. I don't know how much impact … North Carolina's a great school to recruit to and Duke is a great school to which you could recruit. When you say impact you need to mention Everett, Frank … and then Bones to me was one of the great coaches. Players said they didn't know when they'd have practice [with Bones] until they saw the weather report. Because if it was going to rain they'd have practice in the afternoon, but if it was sunny then they'd be practicing at night. Bones was a great [golfer]. That's just a tough question, I don't know.

On the building having his name-

I was asked that long ago and I honestly did say I didn't think that was appropriate while I was still coaching. I said you can name it for the players, but they said ‘we can't fit everyone's name on the building, so you're the common denominator of all of the players.' It's a great honor, don't get me wrong.

Do you think some people were left off the Top 50 ACC list that deserved to be on it?

Certainly. It's hard, but I don't even think you should do it. Right away you've got some people who are upset and you try to even it out among the conference. [Reporter asks – "Who where some of them?"] I'm not going to say. [laughter] You can't possibly judge – what are you judging on? Their abilities? Do you have some common denominator? Defense goes unnoticed, so I won't even try to touch that one. Winning should enter into it. But now you're trying to please, but you can't please everybody and that's why I don't think it's a great idea. To have Top 10 athletes? My gosh, think of all the great athletes that have been in this conference.

Thoughts on players leaving early and going straight from high school, re: LeBron James-

TV brings the interest, but it's funny how in baseball nobody ever complained when Bob Feller at 18 years old struck out 17 or 18 Yankees. He can always go back to college, so I don't mind people leaving. But is the talent pool [greatly affected]? I don't know. Making freshmen ineligible and junior college ineligible may make it return more to being student athletes. [LeBron] James has a great future and if he chooses later he could go get a degree.

Remembering Jim Valvano-

The stewardess on Eastern Airlines as he and I are sitting together on the way to recruit Shaquille [O'Neal]. He made me laugh the whole time. She said, ‘Does that man ever give you a chance to talk?' I said, ‘I don't want to, I'm laughing too hard.'

Are you still in favor of giving coaches tenure?

Certainly. From Day One, I've certainy been for that. It'd be fun – I'd continue to coach if we weren't on television and go to Division III. I can't go to Division III now because then everyone would [recognize] my nose and say ‘Hey, I know that guy.'

Despite the changes made, the ACC has progressive gotten more physical. Why is that?

I think the game's on television. Bill Rafftery's one of my close friends, I play golf with him. I like him – he's funny. But I am trying to get him to stop saying "that call was a nickle and dimer" because the officials go home and watch their tape and they hear that. I don't know the answer to that other than what I mentioned to have a pool where that's their main job – to be a basketball official. The pros are pretty good because they have control over them.

More on Charlie Scott's impact-

When Charles came in, Perry Wallace also came in to Vanderbilt. Both were very courageous. They were recruited nationally so they could have gone to a lot of schools. It was way overdue and looking back you have to hand it to them for being willing to do this. C.M. Newton did a great job at Alabama …

Do you support Coach Doherty and what is your current view of the state of the program?

I've said it over and over again. I certainly support the head basketball coach – I support all of our coaches. … I want to see this program go. … Mike [Krzyzewski]'s done an unbelievable recruiting job and they play hard … But we'll be there.

After the continued success here, what was it like for you to endure last year?

Difficult. I really believe, and I told Matt (he was so busy last year) that when we lost to [Curtis] Staples [of EA Sports], he's a pretty good shooter. They don't scout exhibition, and I thought afterward that I should have told Matt that [Staples] takes one bounce left and shoots – and makes them most of the time. By losing the game the way we did. We thought we were going to be down, maybe, but good. Then we lost to a good Hampton team that beat Iowa State the year before in the NCAAs. But our players think Hampton, our fans think Hampton … and then when we lost to Davidson at home I really think we just lost confidence and it mushroomed.

On Len Bias-

We have a great respect for Len Bias. He almost single-handedly beat us here – with a double-dribble I might add [laughter]. I didn't even see it. Dave Gavitt was coming down and said ‘I can't believe Nicholas missed that double-dribble.' Anyway, he stole the ball from Kenny Smith.

Michael Jordan turns 40 on Monday, what note will you put on his birthday card?-

I got something for his 40th birthday celebration – I probably shouldn't say that – but I can't go because I have a Catfish Hunter ALS [event] Saturday night. I'd tell him welcome to the club of 40 and above. What a remarkable first 40 years and I know he'll continue to do well with whatever he chooses.

You mentioned Mike [Krzyzewski] just now – what makes a great program?

You have to have players' interest, ability to know the game, getting them to play unselfishly and then by winning and graduating. … I don't know I never thought about it. I wanted to coach, I wanted to have good relationships with players – I had to tell them things they didn't want to do and I'm sure they hated me some nights. … And we wouldn't have a good program if we didn't win some games.

Talking about Frank McGuire-

I'm forever grateful. He brought me here. Even when he was at South Carolina and I was at North Carolina, we'd have a pregame meal and I'd go down to see Frankie Jr., Frank, Jane, Caroline and all of them. In fact Caroline McGuire called me last night. He became a close friend and we miss him very much. I think he would have been a great football coach – people wanted to please him and that's a great trait of leadership.

On his players' success in the NBA-

I'm very pleased that they've succeeded. I had one who didn't even have a scholarship [offer] out of high school. Shammond [Williams] said to me that he was going to be an NBA player, and I didn't laugh, but he was 6-1. I'm so happy for him to do so well. And you like to see Bill Harrison is the CEO of Morgan Chase Bank. And there are other guys, Tommy LaGarde helps kids on the lower East Side. And what I like about all my players is that every one of them has been generous to down and out people.

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