CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina basketball family has lost a second beloved coach in the last few months with the death of Bill Guthridge, Dean Smith’s “perfect sidekick.”
Guthridge, who was Smith’s longtime assistant and later succeeded him as North Carolina’s head coach, was 77. The school announced Wednesday that Guthridge died Tuesday night.
The family told team spokesman Steve Kirschner that Guthridge died of heart failure, and that the coach had lived with a heart condition the past seven years.
“This is another terrible loss for the Carolina basketball family,” former North Carolina player and current Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Coach Guthridge was instrumental in recruiting me to UNC and I have so many great memories of him and the lessons he taught me. I will miss his kindness and wisdom.
“My sympathies go out to his wife, Leesie, and their kids and family.”
Jordan is among many Tar Heels who had tremendous respect for Guthridge.
“If he told me to run through that wall to make me better, I’d hit that wall,” former Tar Heel player and well-traveled college coach Buzz Peterson told AP. “Because I knew coach Guthridge had the best interest for you and wanted to see you succeed.”
Guthridge spent three decades as an assistant to Smith, helping him bring national championships to Chapel Hill in 1982 and 1993.
“The word ‘assistant’ means you’re helping someone,” current coach Roy Williams said, “and I couldn’t imagine anyone quote ‘helping’ someone any more than coach Guthridge helped coach Smith.”
When Smith retired as Division I’s winningest men’s coach shortly before the 1997-98 season, Guthridge was promoted to replace him, and he guided the Tar Heels to two Final Fours in three seasons.
Guthridge went 80-28 from 1997-2000, reaching Final Fours in 1998 and 2000 before retiring that June.
“He was in the shadow, but that didn’t bother him. He liked that spot,” Williams said, adding he was “the perfect sidekick” to Smith, who died in February at age 83.
Said Peterson: “They worked so well together. So much trust between those two. Just a perfect, perfect team.”
The careers and lives of the two coaches from Kansas were solidly intertwined. Both played college ball in that state — Smith at Kansas, Guthridge at Kansas State — and coached at their alma maters before coming to North Carolina.
Guthridge joined Smith’s staff for the 1967-68 season, starting out as the freshman coach and a co-assistant varsity coach and eventually becoming the Hall of Famer’s most trusted assistant. He also was an assistant to Smith on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in Montreal.
Peterson — who roomed with Michael Jordan on those early 1980s teams — said Guthridge kept the program going off the court, with the assistant making him run the school’s golf course at 6 a.m. as punishment for once being late.
“We’d always say there were so many time zones — Eastern Standard Time, Central Standard Time — but the most important was GST: Guthridge Standard Time,” Peterson said. “I’d always set my time to GST, 10 minutes ahead.”
North Carolina made 29 NCAA Tournament appearances in Guthridge’s 33 years on the staff and finished no worse than third in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season standings every year — with 16 first-place finishes and 10 more in second. The Tar Heels either won the ACC Tournament or finished atop the league standings — or did both — in 23 of those seasons.
After Smith retired in October 1997, then-athletic director Dick Baddour elevated Guthridge to the top job. That season, he led the Tar Heels to a 34-4 record and the final No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25, earned the ACC Coach of the Year award and guided North Carolina to the Final Four before losing to Utah.
The Tar Heels then went 24-10 in 1998-99 but were upset by Weber State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In Guthridge’s final season, he went 18-13 — at the time, the program’s worst finish in decades — but bounced back in the postseason to reach North Carolina’s 15th Final Four before losing in the national semifinals to Florida. He stepped down 2 1/2 months later.
“It has been a trying time for the University of North Carolina basketball program over the past four months, and our thoughts and prayers are with them again today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “Though he was a head coach for a short time, he gracefully carried on a culture and legacy that many thought could not be perpetuated.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina contributed to this report.
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