Tonight North Carolina is mourning the loss of legendary University of North Carolina Chapel Hill basketball coach, Dean Smith. It does not matter if you are a fan of rival basketball programs, Dean Smith is a name you know and respect.
I’ve been a Carolina basketball fan since I was a young girl. When I met my husband, I joked my blood ran Carolina Blue to his Maryland red. My toddler cousins, now 26, used to say they were going to “bring Dean Smif out of retirement.”
Originally from Emporia, Kansas, Coach Smith had a 36 year coaching tenure at the UNC-CH, retiring with 879 victories, 2 national championships and 11 Final Fours. In short, he created a basketball dynasty for the University of North Carolina that is still going strong today.
A big proponent of desegregation, Charlie Scott was recruited by Coach Smith and the became university’s first African-American player to receive a scholarship to play while attending UNC-CH. Most don’t realize that UNC-CH was still rigidly segregated in 1959. Smith came to Carolina in 1961 and by 1966 Scott was playing for UNC.
To give backstory to Smith’s integration work, in 1964, he joined a local pastor, Robert Seymour, and a black theology student to integrate The Pines, a Chapel Hill restaurant. Smith was still an assistant coach at the time, but they walked to the restaurants and waited outside until they were seated. The following year, he helped Howard Lee, a black graduate student at UNC, buy a home in an all white neighborhood.
Fred Hobson, a retired UNC English professor who played on the all-white freshman basketball squad the same 1961–62 season Smith took over as head coach, said Smith got involved “not because he wanted to necessarily, but because he felt he had to. His father had led school integration in Kansas when he was growing up and carried that same deep sense of moral right and wrong. He simply had a firm desire to do the right thing and take a leadership role.** ”
Coach Smith retired in 1997, no longer able to give the enthusiasm needed to coach a program like Carolina. He still advised the Carolina basketball staff and worked tireless in his community. On July 17, 2010, his family released a statement that he had a “progressive neurocognitive disorder” and from then on, spent his last years quietly out of the spotlight.
Dean Smith was a memorable man and touched everyone who met him. He was a true leader in the state of North Carolina and that is what will stick with us. More than basketball championships or Final Four appearances, Coach Smith gave himself to North Carolina and served our state with selflessness, strength of character, and leadership. For that, we shall always love him.