Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels won 879 games, 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments and two national titles. They reached 11 Final Fours. Along the consistently winning way, Coach Smith positively transformed the sport he loved with innovations based, above all, on relentless teamwork.
But his death at age 83 Saturday night has inspired well-earned tributes that range far beyond the court.
That’s because Mr. Smith wasn’t just the driven victor hailed by UCLA mastermind John Wooden as “the best teacher of basketball that I have observed.”
Mr. Smith was a good man whose good works weren’t limited to his team’s dreaded “four corners” offense and “run and jump” defense.
For instance, in 1959, he was still a mere assistant to then-UNC head coach Frank McGuire — and racial segregation was still the cruel rule across the South, including Chapel Hill. Yet Coach Smith and a local minister took a black theology student with them to a local restaurant where, remarkably, they were served lunch.
That wasn’t the last time Mr. Smith took a stand for racial fairness — including personal participation at sit-ins.
He also recruited UNC’s first black scholarship athlete — Charlie Scott, who came to the school from New York City in 1966. Mr. Scott, now 66, said on Monday’s “Mike and Mike” ESPN radio show that he experienced “culture shock” in Chapel Hill.
Yet he added that Coach Smith “did nothing with me different than he did with the other athletes, and that is what made me feel comfortable.”
Echoing other former Tar Heels, Mr. Scott said that after leaving UNC, Coach Smith became “my friend, my father figure, my mentor,” regularly staying in touch.
And though Mr. Scott was an outstanding player who went on to become an outstanding pro in both the ABA and NBA, he stressed that such lasting relationships weren’t limited to UNC’s stars:
“Coach Smith cared just as much for the 15th player, for the manager, and their life, as he cared for what I did in my life.”
So many heartfelt testimonials like that offer reminders of Coach Smith’s greatest legacy — and of the most enduring triumphs a truly winning coach can achieve.