June 30, 2000
Following a legend is no easy task, but Bill Guthridge did an outstanding job leading the Carolina men's basketball program after Dean Smith stepped down after 36 years as head coach. Guthridge followed college basketball's alltime winningest head coach with two Final Four berths and an ACC championship in his three years as UNC's head coach.
Coach Guthridge took
UNC to 2 Final Fours
in three years.
Guthridge directed the Tar Heels to a record of 80-28 wins in his three years, sharing the NCAA record for most wins by a coach after three seasons with NC State's Everett Case. His 58 wins in his first two seasons are the highest win total of any two-year coach in NCAA history.
Guthridge's winning percentage of .741 is the third-highest in school history for coaches with at least three seasons (behind Dean Smith, .776 in 36 seasons, and George Shepard, .812 in four seasons). He led Carolina to two NCAA Final Four berths and was the consensus 1997-98 National Coach of the Year. He is just the second coach in NCAA history to lead teams to two Final Fours in his first three seasons as a head coach (Ohio State's Fred Taylor was the other in 1960 and 1961).
In short, Guthridge did what many observers predicted could not be done -- take over one of college basketball's premier programs and continue to win games, recruit the nation's top student-athletes and direct an all-around first-class program.
Smith decided to step down as coach in October 1997. Athletic Director Dick Baddour turned to Guthridge and immediately tabbed him to take over the Tar Heel program. It proved to be an outstanding choice. In his first season as a head coach since a stint in Puerto Rico in 1967, Guthridge led the 1997-98 Tar Heels to a 34-4 record, the ACC Tournament championship, a No. 1 final ranking in the Associated Press poll, an NCAA East Regional title and a berth in the Final Four.
Carolina posted two wins over then No. 1-ranked Duke, won the Great Alaska Shootout with a championship game victory over Purdue, boasted the National Player of the Year in Antawn Jamison, won a school-record four overtime games and had two players selected in the top five of the NBA Draft for the second time in four years.
Carolina equaled the school record for wins in a season with 34, the second-highest single-season output in ACC history. The 34 wins also were the most by any first-year head coach in NCAA history.
"Bill did a marvelous job, but it was not a surprise to me or anyone who knows college basketball," says Dean Smith. "He never did receive enough credit, although he didn't ask for it, for all his years as Tex Winter's assistant and my assistant. Bill's basketball savvy, ability to remain composed and genuine affection for his players are just some of the reasons for his success as a head coach."
The Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the country three different times in 1997-98, including the final AP poll heading into the NCAA Tournament. UNC won 17 consecutive games to start the season and at no point in the season lost back-to-back contests.
Guthridge was named the National Coach of the Year by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, as well as the Atlanta Tipoff Club (Naismith Award), CBS/Chevrolet and The Sporting News. He was also selected the ACC Coach of the Year after leading the Tar Heels to a 13-3 record in the regular season and the ACC Tournament crown. Carolina won the ACC title by winning three straight games against teams it had lost to in the regular season. Guthridge became the first coach in ACC history to win ACC Coach-of-the-Year honors in his first campaign as a head coach.
"He doesn't want to take any credit, but he was the man behind the scenes," point guard Ed Cota said following Carolina's 83-68 win over Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game. "We never had a doubt about him as a head coach. We wanted to win this one for Coach Gut."
In 1998, Guthridge became the sixth person to play on a Final Four team and then direct a Final Four squad as head coach. He is one of eight people to lead a team to the national semifinals in his first season as a head coach.
"No one can ever underestimate how much Coach Gut has done. He's been great to play for. He's been a great leader, and I think this proves it," said National Player of the Year Antawn Jamison after Carolina defeated Connecticut in the NCAA East Regional final to advance to the Final Four.
Early on, Carolina survived difficult non-conference tests in which Guthridge showed his ability to manage tense, late-game situations. Against fifth-ranked Purdue in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout, Carolina trailed by eight points at halftime and by seven with seven minutes to play in the second half. The Tar Heels then reeled off eight straight points to take the lead and held on for a four-point victory.
Bill Guthridge won more
games (58) in his first
two years than any
coach in NCAA history.
After the game, assistant coach Dave Hanners said, "It was just like Coach Smith was on the sidelines. Everybody was so excited, hollering out ideas, and there was Coach Guthridge as calm as ever. He really kept the guys composed down the stretch."
In 1998-99, Carolina hit the court with its most inexperienced team in more than three decades. Guthridge took a team that was without four starters from the year before -- including first-round draftees Jamison and Carter -- and went 24-10. The Tar Heels started two freshmen for much of the season, yet still finished third in the ACC behind two teams ranked in the top five in the country throughout the season. UNC qualified for NCAA postseason play for the 25th consecutive season and won 20-plus games for a remarkble 29th year in a row. Those streaks were no guarantees when the inexperienced Tar Heels began the season.
"The only thing that's different than Coach Smith is he's more vocal," says senior forward Ademola Okulaja. "He's still a very funny guy, loose, calm. He's got the same philosophy: Work hard, play together, play smart, and ultimately, you will have fun."
The Tar Heels went 12-7 against ACC competition in Guthridge's second season. The biggest conference win of the year came in the ACC Tournament semifinals as Carolina edged fifth-ranked Maryland, 86-79. That win came after the Terps won the regular-season matchups by 13 and 17 points, respectively. The victory also put the Tar Heels into the ACC championship game for the third straight year and eighth time in nine years.
In 1999-2000, Guthridge led Carolina to its NCAA-record 15th Final Four and its third in four seasons. With the win over Tulsa to advance to the 2000 Final Four, Guthridge earned his 80th win as UNC's head coach, tying NC State's Everett Case for the most wins in history by a third-year head coach.
"The first thing that stands out about Bill Guthridge is his love for the University of North Carolina," says Baddour. "Bill believes in the special virtues that make Chapel Hill and this University a unique and rewarding educational experience. Like his longtime friend and mentor, Dean Smith, Bill instills a commitment to academics first, social growth second and basketball third. It is obvious by the special bond his players, both present and former, share with him that they are devoted to Bill and thankful for his guidance and friendship. It takes a special person to be remembered fondly for being both firm and funny, always in the best interests of his students, and Bill is that special person."
As Smith's chief assistant, Guthridge was involved in every aspect of the North Carolina program and there is not a weakness in his coaching repertoire. He has a thorough knowledge of all aspects of his profession--teaching, organizational skills, motivation, on-bench decision making, practice plans and recruiting.
The Wall Street Journal noted during Carolina's 1998 Final Four march: "On its own terms this is a great story, both because it suggests that organizations are full of underappreciated people who need only a chance to showcase their talents, and because it reminds us that ceaseless self-promotion and perpetual job-hopping are not necessary ingredients for getting ahead. But what's most striking about Mr. Guthridge's success is the way it reflects UNC's dedication to him. Even as corporations increasingly look outside their ranks for top management, Mr. Guthridge's experience suggests a more comforting model of succession."
Guthridge was a part of 867 wins at Carolina. Including 93 wins as an assistant coach at Kansas State, he has been on the sidelines for 960 college basketball victories.
Guthridge, who was born on July 27, 1937, is a 1960 alumnus of Kansas State University. He played as a guard on Wildcat teams which won Big Eight Conference championships in 1958, 1959 and 1960 and in his sophomore year, KSU made the NCAA Final Four after winning the Midwest Regional championship.
Guthridge's esteem is held equally high in Kansas as it is in North Carolina. In 1994 he was elected to membership in the state of Kansas' Basketball Hall of Fame by the Kansas Coaches Association.
Guthridge has been a part of some of the greatest teams in both Kansas State and North Carolina history as an assistant coach. In fact, Guthridge was involved with 14 teams which have reached the Final Four--as a player at Kansas State in 1958, as an assistant coach with the Wildcats in 1964, as a Tar Heel assistant coach in 1968, 1969, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997, and as UNC's head coach in 1998 and 2000.
Carolina made 29 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and four in the National Invitation Tournament in Guthridge's time on the staff, participating in a postseason tournament in each of his years in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels finished third or higher in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings in each of his 33 seasons, including 16 first-place finishes and 10 second-place finishes. In 23 of his 33 years, Carolina has either won the ACC Tournament, finished first in the regular-season standings or done both. He also was on a staff that led Carolina to NCAA championships in 1982 and 1993 and to the NIT title in 1971.
Guthridge also played a key role when the United States won the Olympic gold medal in 1976 at the Summer Games in Montreal. Smith named Guthridge and Georgetown head coach John Thompson to his staff for the Games. Besides practice and bench coaching duties at the Olympics, Guthridge also was responsible for scouting the Americans' opponents during the two-week competition. The trio of Smith, Guthridge and Thompson coached a talented American squad to the gold medal four years after the U.S. had been denied the gold for the first time in history in a heart-breaking one-point loss to the Soviet Union in Munich.
Guthridge was the Tar Heels' shooting instructor and it's no coincidence Carolina has shot at least 50 percent from the field in 24 of the last 30 seasons and led the ACC in field goal percentage 20 times in the last 30 years. The Tar Heels have led the ACC in field goal percentage shooting, the best example of the unselfish, ball-movement style of offense Carolina is nationally known for, in six of the past seven seasons.
Guthridge also exceled as a tutor for the Tar Heel big men and worked individually with the frontcourt players prior to each practice session. Among his former pupils are Rusty Clark, Bob McAdoo, Mitch Kupchak, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Joe Wolf, Scott Williams, J.R. Reid, Pete Chilcutt, Eric Montross, Rasheed Wallace, Serge Zwikker, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Ademola Okulaja and Brendan Haywood.
A native of Parsons, Kan., Guthridge played high school basketball for Harold Johnson, one of two brothers who innovated the zone press in the 1930s. In addition to his basketball accomplishments at Kansas State, Guthridge also was chosen as one of the University's 13 most outstanding all-around seniors in 1960 based on his leadership qualities, extracurricular activities and academic record.
After graduating from Kansas State, he coached at Scott City High School in Kansas for two seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach for Tex Winter. In five years on Winter's staff, Guthridge helped lead the Wildcats to a 93-43 record, a pair of Big Eight Conference crowns and the 1964 NCAA Final Four.
Guthridge, who led UNC to a 7-2 record in overtime games as head coach, came to Carolina prior to the 1967-68 season after Larry Brown left to play in the ABA. He came to Carolina as freshman coach and co-assistant varsity coach with John Lotz. In his first six seasons at UNC, Guthridge directed the Tar Heel freshmen to a 72-25 record and a quartet of Big Four championships.
Besides working with Smith and Winter, two of the great names in coaching, Guthridge also coached in the Puerto Rican Amateur Athletic Union Summer Leagues twice, earning Coach-of-the-Year honors. His work was so superb that he was invited to coach the 1968 Puerto Rican Olympic Team.
However, Guthridge's greatest fame has come from his work with the Tar Heels. Smith gives Guthridge much of the credit for helping develop the players who have kept Carolina at the top of the college ranks during the past three decades.
"Coach Guthridge is the best I have ever seen in selecting potential in high school players," Smith says. "He has a keen sense of which ones will be very good players and which ones may be overrated. He has saved many scholarships when he has suggested backing off certain players, and of course, has selected some great ones who matriculated at Chapel Hill."
Guthridge says he actually enjoyed the recruiting of new student-athletes for the Tar Heels.
"Some people say recruiting is undesirable, that it's the worst part of being a college coach," says Guthridge. "But my experiences have been very enjoyable. I think that has had a lot to do with the type of young man that our University attracts."
Guthridge, whose Bachelor of Science degree from Kansas State is in mathematics, received a master's degree in education from KSU in 1963.
His dry sense of humor makes him one of the most popular speakers in the Carolina athletic department. Tar Heel seniors annually credit Guthridge's discipline and wit among the things they will miss the most about the Carolina basketball family.
Bill and his wife, Leesie, have two sons, Jamie and Stuart, and a daughter, Megan.