CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Dean Smith did everything to bring the best out of his North Carolina players.
Sometimes that meant a handwritten note of encouragement. Other times, that meant facing what former star guard Phil Ford called “the wrath of Dean.”
Smith, who led the Tar Heels to two national titles and 11 Final Fours, died Saturday night at 83. Both Ford and Michael Jordan likened the Hall of Fame coach to a “second father.”
“Not many people are willing to share everything about themselves with another person that will make the other person better, and he was willing to do that,” Ford said Sunday. “Not only with me, but with everyone that played for him, and basically everyone he came in contact with.”
Along this college town’s main Franklin Street drag, there was a sign outside Sutton’s Drug Store bearing one of Smith’s quotes on leadership: “A leader’s job is to develop committed followers. Bad leaders destroy their followers’ sense of commitment.”
And near one entrance to the Tar Heels’ 29-year-old arena Sunday, mourners laid dozens of flowers, handwritten notes and a miniature basketball with a message of gratitude to the late coach.
“I never really remember him coaching on the sideline,” said one of those fans, graduate student Kristin Smith of Greensboro. “But you always knew about him.”
By Sunday night, Gov. Pat McCrory had ordered state flags at state facilities to be lowered to half-staff in Smith’s honor from Monday to Wednesday.
Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford spent 21 years with Smith as an administrator at UNC.
“Sometimes, the word legend is used with too little thought,” Swofford said. “In this instance, it almost seems inadequate. He was basketball royalty.”
Smith led the Tar Heels to 13 ACC tournament titles, five appearances in the NCAA championship game and national titles in 1982 and 1993. He retired in 1997 with a then-Division I men’s record 879 victories.
Tributes poured in from all corners of college basketball.
John Thompson Jr., whose Georgetown team lost to the Michael Jordan-led Tar Heels for Smith’s first NCAA championship, said simply: “I loved him.”
NCAA President Mark Emmert called him “the true definition of a coach” and Kentucky coach John Calipari wrote on Twitter that it was “a sad day for basketball to lose one of the greatest coaches of all time.”
One of Calipari’s predecessors with the Wildcats, Joe B. Hall, called Smith “a dominating force.”
“It was a constant effort to prepare for hours for his team because he adjusted so well,” Hall said. “You really had to go to great depths to prepare because his system was so sound and he had the players to execute it.”
‘Louisville coach Rick Pitino called Smith “the architect of so many innovative and creative things with our game.” The shot clock was implemented to counter Smith’s time-milking “Four Corners” offense. He was the first coach at North Carolina, and one of the first in the segregated South, to offer a scholarship to a black athlete when he brought Charlie Scott to campus in 1967.
Buzz Peterson, a former Tar Heels player and college coach who roomed with Jordan, said one of Smith’s legacies will be the “family, a special fraternity” he fostered among his former players.
Eric Montross, the starting center on Smith’s ’93 NCAA championship team, remembers Smith frequently writing notes to his players years after they left school.
“He found a way to make everyone feel like they were the center of attention,” Montross said. “And he did it not in a way of false praise or false feeling, it was this genuine interest in your well-being.”
Smith also had his own brand of tough love.
“We called it the wrath of Dean,” Ford said. “Not many people played for him (who) didn’t come under that. … He never swore. I never heard Coach Smith swear, but he could speak to you in a way sometimes that you wish you would.”
AP Sports Writers Gary B. Graves and Aaron Beard contributed to this report.
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