AMERICA’S COACH- DEAN SMITH
One of the all time great coaches in college basketball
passed away this week.
Dean Smith had retired with more wins than any coach in history, along with capturing
two national championships.
But to those
who knew him, and I consider myself in that elite number, he was much more than
He was a teacher, an innovator
both on and off the court, a role model, and a real humanitarian.
I was high school senior in 1958, and was hoping to get a
college athletic scholarship for either basketball or track, when I first met
Coach Smith. He had just been hired away from the Air Force Academy as an
assistant at Carolina by then Coach Frank McGuire.
It was common knowledge than Coach Smith was
being groomed to be McGuire’s successor.
One spring afternoon, I was called to the principal’s office
and told that a Mr. Dean Smith was there to see me. His family waited in an
older model Chevrolet with a U-Haul trailer hooked to the back, while Coach
Smith told me that he was on his way to Chapel Hill to begin his new coaching
career. He had been asked by the coaching staff at Carolina to stop by and
recruit me. And in his mild mannered but persuasive way, it didn’t take long to
convince me that Chapel Hill should be my new home.
So my “minor” claim to fame in the sports trivia history
books would be that I was Coach Smith’s first Carolina recruit.
I ended up being a much better sprinter and
hurdler than a basketball player, and I eventually gave up basketball for
track. Coach Smith and I joked from then on that even though some guy name
Jordan came along a few years later to play pretty well for him, I would always
be his “first” college commitment.
When Carolina won its first national championship under
Coach Smith in 1982 at the New Orleans Superdome, I was there in that
A few weeks after his victory, I
received in the mail a blue and white Carolina basketball autographed by Coach
Smith, Michael Jordan, James Worthy and the entire Tar Heel team. He told me he
had sent it as a special gift to his first recruit.
My son checked on eBay and told me I could sell the ball
today for as much as $15,000.
No way, I
It was a gift from Coach
The ball will stay with me till I
die, and then be donated back to the Carolina Basketball Museum in Chapel Hill.
When the state of the art Dean Dome was dedicated as the new
Carolina basketball venue in 1986, Carolina kicked off their schedule playing
an exhibition game against a Russian all star team.
Coach Smith had great seats waiting at the
box office as one of my daughters and I took in this special moment.
Coach Smith brought the Tar Heels to Baton Rouge to play LSU
We had coffee before the game,
and he was effervescent about how much he enjoyed Cajun Country.
He told me Chapel Hill was the best small
town college venue in America, but that Baton Rouge was his favorite bigger
college setting. He loved the music, the food, and was a big fan of LSU
basketball Coach Dale Brown.
On our way into the Maravich Center for the game, he stopped
at the door as we were entering the Tiger’s basketball arena.
“You better go in first Jim,” he told
“ I might lose you some votes if you
are seen with me.”
I laughed and told
him that escorting America’s premiere college coach into the arena was both a
treat and an honor for me.
I hadn’t seen Coach Smith in recent years. Few of his
friends have. In his declining age, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and
At my Carolina
class reunion a few years back, an old fraternity brother, who was a neighbor
of Coach Smith, said that he had gone by to visit but he really didn’t think
Coach Smith recognized him.
another visitor played the Carolina alma mater and fight song.
Coach Smith got to his feet, put his hand
over his heart, and sang along.
Heal spirit and memory were still in him.
They say in Chapel Hill that God is surely a Tar Heal, because
he made the sky Carolina blue.
to know the Good Lord is looking after a great coach, a spiritual man, and a
special person who touched so many lives in such a positive way.
His legacy will leave a simple imprint.
He just made the world a better place for
everyone around him. We will long remember Coach Dean Smith.
Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout
the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns
and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s
nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am,
central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.