Dean Smith accomplished so much on and off the court during his time as North Carolina’s coach, leaving a lasting influence both on the game and the world around him.
He preached the value of team play and turned the Tar Heels program into a family, inspiring fierce loyalty in the countless players and coaches who came through Chapel Hill during Smith’s 36-year tenure there. Away from the bench, Smith took stands on societal issues — most notably in civil rights — that resonated in the once-segregated South.
The retired Hall of Fame coach died “peacefully” Saturday, his family said in a statement released by the school Sunday. He had kept a lower profile amid health issues in recent years, with his family saying in 2010 he had a condition that was causing him to lose the memory that was once unshakeable.
But his legacy never wavered. Here are some of the ways that Smith’s presence will be felt at UNC, in college basketball and beyond for years to come.
FOUR CORNERS: Seeing Smith hold up four fingers meant the Tar Heels were ready to work the clock. That “Four Corners” offense was a slowdown strategy to control the game and lure the defense out to chase the ball. Most notably, UNC went to it in the 1982 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final against Virginia and 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson and turned a game between highly ranked teams into a crawl — the kind of moment that helped ultimately lead to the adoption of the shot clock.
POINT TO THE PASSER: The rule was simple: when you score, point to the guy that passed you the ball to set up the basket. It was the epitome of Smith’s attempts to deflect credit for all those wins — 879, making him the sport’s winningest coach when he retired in October 1997 — to his players throughout his career.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Under Smith, Charles Scott became the first black scholarship athlete at the school in 1967 and one of the first in the South. It was just one example of why President Barack Obama honored Smith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, saying Smith “pushed forward” the civil rights movement. But his efforts started early, with a teenage Smith even attempting — unsuccessfully at the time — to desegregate his high school basketball team in Topeka, Kansas. “He stood on solid footing, whether it was popular or not,” former UNC player Eric Montross said, “because he believed in it.”
SHAPING STARS: More than 50 of his players went on to play in the NBA or ABA — none bigger than Michael Jordan, who called Smith “my mentor, my teacher, my second father.” But the list of great players coached by Smith includes Phil Ford, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty, Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison — not to mention many others who had lower-profile careers or played overseas. “There are so many things I could say about Coach Dean Smith,” Worthy tweeted Sunday, “but simply put, he is the greatest man I’ve ever known.”
COACHING TREE: Smith’s coaching tree of former players and assistants starts with a pair of Hall of Famers in current UNC coach Roy Williams and SMU coach Larry Brown. But there have been other disciples such as George Karl, Jeff Lebo and Eddie Fogler who have led college or pro teams in the years since Smith’s retirement. Still others, such as Mitch Kupchak, have gone on to NBA front-office jobs. And that means Smith’s legacy continues to last with many players who were too young to see him coach a game. “He gave me a chance but more importantly, he shared with me his knowledge,” Williams said, “which is the greatest gift you can give someone.”
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