UNC Legend: Farewell to Coach Dean Smith

“Dear Michael: Our staff surely enjoyed visiting with you and your family there at your beautiful home. It was a delightful evening and one which we were able to use to get to know you better. Hopefully, you felt more comfortable with us also and that you will seriously consider the University of North Carolina for your college education. If there are any questions which came up following our departure, please give me a collect call and I will be happy to discuss them with you. Otherwise we may give you a follow-up call before too long just to touch base. We do think you are a tremendous young man and are impressed not only with your obvious basketball talent but the way you have been a leader at school and done well academically. We look forward to following you closely this year and hope to see you frequently in Chapel Hill. I am writing your parents separately since they were so very hospitable to us. Enjoyed seeing you, Michael, and hope that the beginning in September 1981 I can be your coach. Most sincerely, Dean E. Smith.”

Today, we say farewell to one of the game’s greatest coaches in history – Dean Smith.

Coach Dean made Michael Jordan who he was as a successful player in the collegiate and professional level, and it all started with Smith’s recruiting letter. MJ finally decided to sign with the UNC Tar Heels and spend his amateur years in white and blue. Led by Dean Smith, Jordan played for 4 years, en route to winning the NCAA championship in ’82 and Player of the Year honors in ’84. Coach Smith dropped all he had to Jordan’s fire, adding fuel and motivation which no doubt changed MJ’s career path for the better.

James Worthy, Laker great, and Sam Perkins, one of the NBA’s toughest players to ever step on the wooden court, will also always be grateful for their second-father.

It would take Dean Smith 11 years to reclaim his and UNC’s spot at the top, beating Chris Webber and the famed “Fab Five.” 46 seconds left with UNC up by 3, 72-69, Steve Fisher (then Michigan’s head coach) told his players to run the play as they had no time-outs. After a scramble of lost possessions, Webber scored to make it 72-71 with 36 seconds left. A foul and free throw made it 73-71 for UNC, and Chris got the rebound, ran the ball and hesitated to pass to his point guards before calling a timeout – which they didn’t have.

UNC gets 2 free throws and the possession.

Game over for Michigan.

Dean Smith surprised his school and program when he announced his retirement from the collegiate game on October 1997. Roy Williams, current UNC coach, took over the Tar Heels from Bill Guthridge (Smith’s assistant for 30 years) and Matt Doherty (who last coached the SMU in 2012). In 2010, the Smith family would announce the deteriorating memory of Coach Dean at an alarming rate. He would forget the names around his circle, but he would never forget the memories he had with them. He died peacefully at his house, surrounded by his family and friend, on February 7, 2015 in Chapel Hill.

His most famous pupil, Michael Jordan, would issue a statement right after hearing the news:

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. 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.”

Dean Smith and his contributions to the game of basketball will always be remembered. He was tough to his players, but he took care of them. He was always the best coach that most collegiate players would like to have. He made his players believe in themselves, even when all odds were stacked against him. We remember the greatest players to ever play the game. It’s time we honor the mentors they had before who helped them become great.

Just ask Michael Jordan.

– David Gamboa

(Image from: https://usatftw.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/dean_jordan_b_859775.jpg?w=1000&h=684)

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