Dean Smith won more than just championships at North Carolina, he won the spirit and the respect of everyone whom he encountered.
The transcendent coach passed away “peacefully” at his North Carolina home Saturday night, the school announced in a statement Sunday from Smith’s family. He was 83-years-old. Smith made every one of those years count.
With nearly 900 career wins, Smith retired in 1997 as the winningest coach in men’s NCAA D-I history, a feat that has since been eclipsed by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K said that Smith “will go down as one of the great coaches of any sport of all-time.”
A man that was the first to sign a black player in the conference, Smith won two national championship at UNC and an Olympic gold medal in 1976. He is a member of basketball’s Hall of Fame and is a direct coaching descendent of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Not only did he coach current UNC head coach Roy Williams, who has two titles, but also coached championship coaches Larry Brown, Billy Cunningham and George Karl.
Williams, who spent 10 years as an assistant under Smith, said he “was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people.”
In a career that extended nearly four decades, the list of players Smith developed at UNC is staggering: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Billy Cunningham, Bob McAdoo, Charlie Scott, Walter Davis, Phil Ford, Kenny Smith, Mitch Kupchak, Brad Daugherty, George Lynch, Rick Fox, Jerry Stackhouse, Rahsheed Wallace, Vince Carter, Sam Perkins, Bobby Jones, Antawn Jamison — all just the tip of the iceberg.
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith,” Jordan said in a statement. “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.”
Smith went 879-254 (.776 win pct.) in his 36 years at Chapel Hill. He had 11 Final Four appearances to go with his 2 national championships (1982 and 1993), 17 ACC regular-season titles, 13 ACC tournament titles and was 8-time ACC Coach of the Year (1967, ’68, ’71, ’76, ’77, ’79, ’88, ’93). UNC had just one losing season (his first season in ’61-62) under his leadership.
Josh Helmuth is the editor of CraveOnline Sports.
Photo Credit: Getty