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Dean Smith, former University of North Carolina basketball coach, was a father to many

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2006 file photo, former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith answers questions during a press conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. Smith, the North Carolina basketball coaching great who won two national championships, died "peacef
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2006 file photo, former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith answers questions during a press conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. Smith, the North Carolina basketball coaching great who won two national championships, died "peacefully" at his home Saturday night, Feb. 7, 2015, the school said in a statement Sunday from Smith's family. He was 83. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
Gerry Broome, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dean Smith was the epitome of humble greatness.

Considered as one of college basketball’s greatest minds, Smith coached the North Carolina Tar Heels for 36 years. Guiding the team to two national championships and 11 Final Four appearances, Smith displayed an understanding of the game of basketball that few could match.

“He fought like crazy to win and never gave an inch. He had an amazing mind and memory,” said Jay Bilas, who played against Smith’s Tar Heels.

The legendary coach passed away on Feb. 7 at the age of 83.

Leading the Tar Heels to 13 ACC tournament championships, five national title games and 23 consecutive NCAA appearances, Smith retired with more wins than any other coach in Division 1 history.

But the legacy Smith left runs deeper than wins.

“He treated me like a son,” said George Lynch, a former Tar Heel. “Coach Smith was more than just a basketball coach for us. He took care of us like a father figure.”

It’s a sentiment shared by many former players.

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father,” said Michael Jordan.

That’s what makes the life and memory of Dean Smith so refreshing. He didn't sacrifice meaningful relationships with his players for wins and losses.

“Basketball was important to him, but that was not the most important thing. He was your coach and your friend for life, and anything he could do for a player or manager or anyone associated with him, he would do it,” said Buzz Peterson, a former player of Smith’s.

Research shows that children benefit from having an active father figure in their life. Regular interaction with such a figure is known to reduce behavioral problems, criminal behavior and violence.

A similar study noted that young men who are without the influence of a father are more likely to struggle in social situations and in school.

For the hundreds of young men who played for Smith, they were blessed with a man to look up to, a man who cared.

Aside from winning on the court, Dean Smith encouraged his players to win in school. In more than 30 years of coaching he graduated close to 97 percent of his student athletes. Under his eye, the Tar Heels were a clean program, without a single NCAA violation.

In today’s society, the important role of father or father figure is under attack. Commercials, ads and movies degrade the vital role a father plays. In times like these, we remember the example of Smith.

“His whole thing was to do the best you could do, the absolute best you could do. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Do the absolute best you could do. And then live with it,” said Roy Williams, current head coach at North Carolina.

Dean Smith certainly lived by his motto.

Email: tstahle@deseretdigital.com Twitter: @tstahle15