Younger Fans Learn about the Life and Legacy of Dean Smith


There is a whole generation of Tar Heel fans who never really got to experience the Dean Smith era, myself included. Dean Smith announced his retirement on October 9th, 1997, around two months after the day of my birth. I, along with current students at UNC and throngs of high, middle and elementary school students, never got to know Dean Smith as a coach. I never saw him running the Four Corners offense, never saw him roaming the sidelines in Carmichael or in the Smith Center and never followed him on a day to day basis as the coach of the Tar Heels.

Before this weekend and unfortunate death of Coach Smith, I knew who the coach was, but I never really was aware of how much he meant to so many Tar Heel fans. I knew Coach Smith had won a few championships and been to plenty of Final Fours on the court. I knew that he was the coach of Michael Jordan. I knew he was the coach in “Chris Webber game” in the ’93 National Championship. I knew a little bit about how Smith signed Charlie Scott as the first African-American scholarship athlete about the University. And I knew that the fans always cheered extra hard for Smith when he proclaimed “I’m a Tar Heel” in the video played during T.V. timeouts at UNC Basketball games. To summarize, I knew Smith almost exclusively as a successful basketball coach, next to John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight on the Mt. Rushmore of College Basketball coaches.

Over the weekend, with Coach Smith’s death, there was an immediate outpouring of support from all around the college basketball and sports landscape at the news of his death. I heard a lot about the great coach that Dean Smith was, but I learned a lot more about the man that Dean Smith was.

The emphasis in every story that I read and every tale retold was how great of a guy that Coach Smith was, not only to his players but to his fans and to the Tar Heel faithful. I learned that Smith was more than a good Xs and Os coach — he was a true second father to his players and the father of everything that Carolina Basketball stands for.

I read many stories just like this one from Doc Kennedy of Tar Heel Blog about how Dean Smith would do his best to remember everyone he met and went out of his way to write thank you notes and to say hello to people he had met maybe only once or twice.

From the Daily Tar Heel, I learned more about Smith the humanitarian and the Dean Smith that won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award for civilians.

I learned about Smith’s humility from Adam Lucas of and about how he always deflected praise away from himself and to his team and to his opponents.

There were so many different tributes to Coach Smith, but all of them had an underlying theme of describing more about Smith the great man than Smith the great coach.

More from North Carolina Tar Heels

This was a huge learning experience for me and probably a lot of students at the University and Carolina fans who were too young to remember Smith’s reign at Carolina. This weekend gave me a whole new understanding of what it means to play the Carolina way and to play for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

While many Tar Heel fans were shedding tears and remembering the life of a great man, younger Tar Heel fans like myself were vigorously reading about the life of a man that we never knew but now look to as an excellent example of a great coach and better man.