Dean Smith, former men’s head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, passed away on February 7. He was a legend, if you know college basketball, and certainly if you know UNC and the Tar Heel family…
When the Tar Heels won the NCAA Tournament Championship in 1982, I was 10. I remember that game and that team standing out to me for some reason. I remembered Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, and the hometown hero James Worthy. I became a Tar Heel that day, and never looked back.
Over the years I continued to follow the Heels, and set my sights on UNC for college. I became a fan of Coach Smith’s, and to me, he was the embodiment and the spirit of UNC. He was a Tar Heel.
I arrived at Carolina in the fall of 1990, excited finally to be part of the family. I had choices to make, obviously – classes, major, activities and clubs, friends. Soon all began to be clear and things started falling into place. But my experience would not be complete without Carolina basketball. And Coach Dean Smith.
I never met the man. I mean, he never knew my name (I got his autograph once). But I knew he was great. He meant something, and not just on the campus. I appreciated his humility, his demeanor during a game, his smarts. The 1993 NCAA Tournament brought it all home – we were the champions. Again. And I got to experience it. That was a fun time. I was proud to be a Tar Heel.
I “met” Coach Smith probably a couple more times during my tenure at UNC (I worked there for quite a while after I graduated). But to be honest, I never grasped the depth of his impact until his death. I didn’t realize who he was off court, in the community (read more here). I’ve learned a lot about him over the past couple of weeks, and now more appreciate his honor, integrity, and wisdom. He’s known for once saying, “I do believe in praising that which deserves to be praised.” Well, he deserves to be praised, and the Carolina family will never forget his contributions to the sport, to his teams, to the campus, but mostly to… making our lives just a little bit more blue better.
Rest in peace, Coach.