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Dean Smith, Longtime University of North Carolina Basketball Coach, Dies at 83

By Richard Goldstein NYT 

FEB. 8, 2015

Dean Smith, who built the University of North Carolina basketball team into a perennial national power in his 36 years at Chapel Hill and became one of the game’s most respected figures for qualities that transcended the court, died on Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by the University of North Carolina. His family announced in July 2010 that he had a progressive neurological disorder affecting his memory.

Smith’s 879 victories rank him No. 4 among major college basketball coaches, and his teams won two national championships. He turned out a host of all-Americans, most notably Michael Jordan, perhaps basketball’s greatest player, but he emphasized unselfish team play. He was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a four-time national coach of the year.

Like most successful coaches, Smith was adept at diagraming plays on a blackboard. But unlike many, he ran a program that was never accused of N.C.A.A. violations, and some 97 percent of his players graduated.

President Obama awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, in November 2013, presenting it to his wife, Linnea, who represented him at a White House ceremony.

In addition to citing Smith’s achievements on the court, Mr. Obama praised his “courage in helping to change our country” through his progressive views on race relations.

He drew on a moral code implanted by his parents in Depression-era Kansas to break racial barriers in a changing South. He challenged segregation and recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first starring black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“My father said, ‘Value each human being,’ ” Smith recalled in “A Coach’s Life” (1999), written with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. “Racial justice wasn’t preached around the house, but there was a fundamental understanding that you treated each person with dignity.”

North Carolina-Duke became a classic basketball rivalry, but for all its frenzy, Smith’s rival on the coaching lines was fulsome with praise.

“I can’t think of a time I’ve ever heard him blame or degrade one of his own players, and in return his kids are fiercely loyal to him,” Mike Krzyzewski of Duke told Sports Illustrated in 2005. “He had a style that no one’s every going to copy. To be that smart, to be that psychologically aware, that good with X’s and O’s — with that system, and to always take the high road — that just isn’t going to happen again.”

Dean Edwards Smith was born on Feb. 28, 1931, in Emporia, Kan., where his father, Alfred, was a teacher and the high school basketball coach, and his mother, Vesta, also taught.

Smith’s parents instilled a sense of racial tolerance in him, in a highly segregated state, long before the modern civil rights movement. His father put a black player named Paul Terry on his 1933-34 team, which won the state championship, though Terry was barred from playing in the state tournament by Kansas sports officials.

When Smith was 15, his family moved to Topeka. He played basketball, football and baseball in high school, then received an academic scholarship to the University of Kansas.

Smith was a 5-foot-10 substitute guard on the Kansas team coached by Phog Allen that won the 1952 N.C.A.A. championship, and he became immersed in a basketball heritage that stretched to James Naismith, the inventor of the game, who had coached Allen at Kansas.

After stints as an assistant coach at Kansas and the Air Force Academy, Smith was hired in 1958 as an assistant to Frank McGuire, who had taken North Carolina to an undefeated season and an N.C.A.A. championship in 1957 with a triple-overtime victory over Smith’s alma mater, Kansas, and Wilt Chamberlain. Smith succeeded McGuire when he became the Philadelphia Warriors’ coach in 1961.

He was only 30 years old, he had never been a collegiate head coach, and he inherited a program that was serving a year’s N.C.A.A. probation for recruiting violations.

Smith’s first North Carolina team went 8-9. In January 1965, he was hanged in effigy on campus after the Tar Heels were routed on the road by Wake Forest. But he began to attract talented players, and in the late 1960s his teams went to the N.C.A.A. tournament’s Final Four three consecutive times.

Smith’s first N.C.A.A. championship came in 1982 when Jordan, a freshman at the time, sank the winning basket in a 63-62 victory over Georgetown. His second N.C.A.A. title came in 1993, a 77-71 triumph over Michigan.

 

 

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