Few people in UNC’s history are as iconic and universally-beloved as basketball coach Dean Smith, who passed away this Saturday at age 83.
Smith arrived at UNC in 1958 as an assistant basketball coach under Frank McGuire. Three years later, he took on the role of head coach during a difficult time for the team. After a massive 1961 gambling conspiracy in which players from 22 schools threw the outcome of games, the team faced sanctions by the NCAA and the resignation of Coach McGuire.
Despite assuming leadership in such a challenging time, Smith soon brought the Tar Heels to the top, winning three consecutive ACC titles in 1967, 1968, and 1969. In his 36-season career, the team made eleven appearances in the Final Four and won two NCAA championships (1982 and 1993). Smith was credited with the invention of several basketball innovations, including the four corners offense, and retired with 879 career wins, a record which went unbroken for a decade. During his tenure at UNC, he coached an array of basketball legends including Phil Ford, Billy Cunningham, Charlie Scott, Bob McAdoo, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Vince Carter, just to name a few.
However, it was not Smith’s skill as a coach alone that made him an icon. Committed to racial integration, he used his influence to promote the integration of local businesses and was the first coach in the ACC to recruit black players. He emphasized the importance of
personal integrity and promoted academic excellence for his players, opposing freshman eligibility for high-profile sports. Perhaps most of all, Smith is remembered for his life-long devotion to his players, remaining a mentor and friend to many of them long after they left Carolina.