To Dean Smith who passed away last night and was evidently suffering from a form of dementia for the past few years and had been vacant from the public eye during these last period.
Dean Smith was one of the all time great college basketball coaches. I believe he set a record for all time victories by the time he retired in the late 1990's (since broken at least twice--most recently by his long time competitor, Coach K). He coached at University of North Carolina and led them to an amazingly long streak of 20+ victories every year, many ACC championships, a large number of NCAA tournament bids and two NCAA championships.
More fundamentally important he was a decent man and a courageous and leading actor on behalf of racial integration. He did that on a local level in North Carolina. He did it in his community and his church, and he did it on the basketball court providing a scholarship to one of or the first black basketball player on the UNC team, and I believe the ACC back in 1967.
Over many decades he received universal love and affection from what must be hundreds of past members of his teams. Really extraordinary levels of fondness for him from his players over the many many decades. That says a lot.
As a technical coach he was excellent devising the famous four corners offense, which was effective and confounding enough to be voided by rules changes, and swarming flows of fast breaks with both first and second waves of players.
He generated a lot of devotion. A life well lived.
I probably started watching ACC basketball since the end of the 1960's, a period during which Dean Smith had already established a dominant program. Having lived and gone to college in Maryland I became a U MD basketball fan during that period and of course found the strength of the UNC and the Duke programs endlessly frustrating. Dean Smith was the "perfect" coach at UNC. Maryland had the tempestuous and colorful Lefty Driesell in those days in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
In any case, with that background I found these paragraphs very telling.....
Once, during a coaches meeting, Dean Smith made Lefty Driesell so angry that the old Maryland coach wrote Smith a letter telling him he'd never shake his hand again.
True to his word, the next time Maryland and North Carolina played, Driesell turned away the man he liked to call "a hook-nosed little sucker."
Yet years later, when Driesell's son, Chuck, came to him for advice about coaching, Driesell had just one tip.
"I told him, 'Don't model yourself after me; model yourself after Dean,'" Driesell recalled Sunday while driving home from Duke's game against Notre Dame. "Dean always said the right thing, did the right thing. He was a true gentleman."
[+] EnlargeKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesEven old opponents like Lefty Driesell couldn't help but respect Dean Smith.
Time, and more the frailty of a rival, has a way of smoothing away past resentments, and so it was with Driesell and his animosity toward Smith. In the final years of Smith's life, Driesell called Smith's secretary almost weekly to check in.
On Sunday, when he learned that Smith had died at the age of 83, he said simply and quietly, "I'll miss Dean."