When ESPN's award-winning SportsCentury program selected the greatest coaches of the 20th Century, it came as no surprise that Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith was among the top seven of all-time. Smith joined other legends Red Auerbach, Bear Bryant, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, John McGraw and John Wooden as the preeminent coaches in sports history.
Smith's tenure as Carolina's basketball coach from 1960-97 is a record of remarkable achievement and consistency. In 36 seasons at UNC, Smith's teams had a record of 879-254. His teams won more games than those of any other Division I men's basketball college coach in history, a record broken in 2007 by Bob Knight and surpassed again in 2011 by Mike Krzyzewski.
The awards and accolades continue to be given to Smith, even after he stepped down as Carolina's head coach on October 9, 1997. Smith was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated and received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards. He was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007. In November 2013, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S.
He received the Naismith Good Sportsmanship Award in 2011. Upon the announcement of that honor, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said, "Dean set the standard for basketball - and not just college basketball - that everyone is still trying to reach. He demanded that his teams play as one. And what he got in return from all these guys who played for him was the intense loyalty that they feel toward him. And that's something I've admired since I started coaching. It's really one of the great things in all of sport: that intense loyalty the Tar Heel players have for Coach Smith."
In 2006, he was named to the inaugural class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame (along with James Naismith, John Wooden, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell).
Smith also became the first recipient of the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, given by the University of North Carolina Committee on Teaching Awards for "a broader range of teaching beyond the classroom."
He's recognized throughout the sports world for his character, his innovations to the game and his ability to have established Carolina's program as one of the greatest in college basketball. Smith's players consistently produce on the floor, in the classroom and in life.
When Smith broke Rupp's record in 1997, his coaching peers had this to say:
John Wooden: "What's more impressive to me about Dean than the record is how good he is as a teacher of basketball. I've always said he's a better teacher of basketball than anyone else. I couldn't begin to teach players the things Dean has taught them. I've admired him because there's more to him than just wins."
Bob Knight: "Let me say some things that he won't say. He's going to say an awful lot about teams and that's the way it should be. But let me put it in perspective. His being able to do that and do it at a single institution, do it through all the years without ever having a problem with any kind of recruiting violation or probation, is a very singular accomplishment in college basketball. I think it's a great achievement, indicative of a guy who really knows how to coach and has decided from day one that things are going to be done the absolute right way. He's not going to tell you, but just take my word for it. That's a great, great accomplishment for a coach."
Roy Williams: "He has a basketball program, he doesn't have a team. And when you have a program, you're concerned about the kids' entire lives, their entire existence ... and what they're going to do after they leave you and what kind of effect you can have on them as they mature."
Perhaps his greatest form of praise on a worldwide level came when a group of his peers, including Hall of Fame coaches Henry Iba, Pete Newell and Auerbach, chose Smith to coach the U.S. Olympic basketball team in the 1976 Montreal Games. The Americans finished a controversial second to the Soviet Union at Munich in 1972. Smith was given the challenge of trying to develop a team to regain the gold medal against a group of improving international teams.
Smith molded a group of college all-stars into a cohesive unit during a few short weeks in that summer of 1976 and led them to the gold medal, sweeping through the Games undefeated and beating Yugoslavia in the championship game. Emphasizing a tough pressure defense and a fast-breaking, attacking style on offense, the Americans returned to the top of the international game.
Just as Smith used his talents to develop that 1976 all-star team into an Olympic champion, he has prepared a host of players for successful careers in the NBA.
"UNC is a plus-four school," Orlando Magic Vice President of Basketball Operations-Player Personnel John Gabriel said about Smith's teams, "meaning that if I rate a player as the 10th-best player in the NBA Draft, being a Tar Heel automatically jumps him to number six. The plus-four rating is based upon the success of former Tar Heels in the NBA."
During his last 31 seasons, since Smith's Tar Heels won their first ACC title in 1967, the Tar Heels had a record of 813-207, winning 79.7 percent of their games.
In 23 of those 31 seasons, Carolina won either the ACC regular-season, tournament or both. Most schools are happy just to win 20 games in a season. At Carolina, it became a habit. No school in the country won more total games in that 31-year period than Carolina. UCLA was second with 751. The Tar Heels also had the most wins over his last 20 seasons with 539, and over his last 10 years with 268.
For Smith and his players, the word "class" applied to the team's exemplary sportsmanship on the court, to its excellent academic performance and to Smith's belief that basketball involves many complexities that must be learned over the course of time - that coaching and playing the game is a classroom situation in its own right.
Smith's teams won championships at every level. There were NCAA titles in 1982 and 1993 and the NIT in 1971. His gold medal-winning team at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games makes Smith one of only three men in history to coach teams to an NCAA title, NIT championship and Olympic victory. The others are Pete Newell and Knight.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1983. He was also inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.
A key to Smith's success was his ability to change Carolina's style to fit his personnel. He favored an offense which used the fast break whenever possible and featured a quick passing attack, but he was also comfortable in a more disciplined style of play. He liked to play multiple defenses to confuse opponents. However, his preference was a pressure, man-to-man to speed up the action.
Among Smith's many innovations were the Four Corners offense, crediting the passer, the run-and-jump defense, the scramble defense out of man-to-man pressure, the point zone, team huddles at the foul line, double-teaming the screen-and-roll, the freelance passing game and multiple screens against zone defenses.
Born February 28, 1931, in Emporia, Kan., Dean Edwards Smith grew up as the son of public school teachers. He graduated from Topeka High School in 1949 and went to the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship. He played varsity basketball and baseball and freshman football for the Jayhawks. He was a member of Jayhawk basketball teams that won the NCAA title in 1952 and finished second in 1953.
Smith was an assistant coach at Kansas to Phog Allen and Dick Harp, then served in the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant. While in the service, he played and coached basketball in Germany. Smith served for three years as an assistant basketball coach under Bob Spear, recognized by his peers as one of the outstanding coaches in the history of the game, and one year each as head baseball and head golf coach at the United States Air Force Academy. In 1958, the late Frank McGuire asked him to join his staff at Carolina as an assistant coach. Smith served as an assistant under McGuire for three years before McGuire resigned to become head coach of the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors in the summer of 1961. At that time, Carolina Chancellor William Aycock tapped the 30-year-old Smith to become UNC's head coach.
Smith shared his knowledge of the game with a talented group of assistants. Many of his assistants went on to head coaching jobs, including Larry Brown, Roy Williams, John Lotz, Kenny Rosemond, Eddie Fogler, Randy Wiel and Bill Guthridge.
Smith's talents do not lie solely in tutoring quality college coaches, as is evidenced by the number of outstanding players who have gone on to professional careers after their days in Chapel Hill. In Smith's 36-year tenure, more than 50 of his players went on to play pro basketball in the NBA or ABA and more played in other professional leagues both in the U.S. and overseas.
"Coach taught me the game, when to apply speed, how to use your quickness, when to use that first step, or how to apply certain skills in certain situations," says Jordan. "Dean Smith gave me the knowledge to score 37 points a game and that's something people don't understand."
Smith coached players who went on to become doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Better than 95 percent of his lettermen earned their degrees.
Michael Jordan: "The camaraderie that he has with his players goes a long way. He's taught a lot of us similar traits and we've accepted that and we've moved on as players and people. That's something we treasure more so than maybe our basketball experience - the things that we learned away from the game.
"He's like a second father to me. When I first left school I was unsure, nervous, scared, going into a situation I wasn't really comfortable with and I didn't know if I was ready for it. He calmed me down with a fatherly attitude, taking me under his wing and teaching me a lot of things about being an adult."
Phil Ford: "My first impression of Coach Smith was honesty. He didn't promise me playing time. In fact, he told me I might have to play on the junior varsity my first year. That kind of set me back. But my mom really liked that because she said, 'Phil, if he's not out here promising you that you will start, that means you go there and work hard and do the best that you can do, then he won't be out promising your job to another high school player.' And if you think about it, that made a lot of sense."
Smith was the winningest coach in the history of the NCAA Tournament with 65 victories (currently second). In 36 ACC Tournaments, he had a coaching record of 58-23, a winning percentage of .716.
Smith, who played for the legendary Phog Allen at Kansas in the early 1950s, and Knight are the only two men to both play on and coach an NCAA championship team. Smith was a member of the Jayhawk squad that won college basketball's top prize in 1952. He then coached the Tar Heels to national titles in 1982 and 1993.
After taking Carolina to the NCAA championship game in 1977, Smith was named National Coach of the Year by the NABC. He received similar honors from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Basketball Weekly in 1979 and from Medalist in 1982. He was named the Naismith National Coach of the Year in 1993 after leading the Tar Heels to the national crown.
In 1993, the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association named Smith the ACC Coach of the Year, an honor he received on seven previous occasions as well-1967, 1968, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979 and 1988.
Smith died at age 83 on February 7, 2015.