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- Former North Carolina Tar Heels men’s head basketball coach Dean Smith passed away on Feb. 7 at the age of 83.
North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball coaching legend Dean Smith passed away on Feb. 7 at the age of 83.
Former North Carolina Tar Heels mens’ basketball coach Dean Smith passed away on Feb. 7 at the age of 83.
The Tar Heels’ official athletics website did not disclose the official cause of death. It released a statement from the Smith family which reads,”Coach Dean Smith passed away peacefully the evening of February 7 at his home in Chapel Hill, and surrounded by his wife and five children. We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as arragements are made available to the public. Thank you.”
According to ESPN, Smith has had health issues in recent years. Five years ago, he had a condition that made him lose his memory. Current Tar Heels head men’s basketball coach Roy Williams said Smith “was the greatest there was on the court but far, far better off the court with people…I’d like to say on behalf of all our players and coaches, past and present, that Dean Smith was the perfect picture of what a college basketball coach should have been. We love him, and we will miss him.”
NBA legend Michael Jordan, one of Smith’s former players, released a statement (via ESPN) saying Smith was one of the biggest influences on his life:
“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. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”
Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the Tar Heels’ bitter rivals, the Duke Blue Devils, marveled at Smith’s coaching ability, per ESPN:
“We have lost a man who cannot be replaced. He was one of a kind, and the sport of basketball lost one of its true pillars. Dean possessed one of the greatest basketball minds and was a magnificent teacher and tactician. While building an elite program at North Carolina, he was clearly ahead of his time in dealing with social issues.
“However, his greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man. That was easy for him to do because he was a great man himself. All of his players benefited greatly from his basketball teachings, but even more from his ability to help mold men of integrity, honor and purpose. Those teachings, specifically, will live forever in those he touched.”
President Barack Obama, a huge basketball fan, also spoke about Smith’s passing in a statement obtained by ESPN:
“Last night, America lost not just a coaching legend but a gentleman and a citizen. When he retired, Dean Smith had won more games than any other college basketball coach in history. He went to 11 Final Fours, won two national titles, and reared a generation of players who went on to even better things elsewhere, including a young man named Michael Jordan — and all of us from Chicago are thankful for that.
“But more importantly, Coach Smith showed us something that I’ve seen again and again on the court — that basketball can tell us a lot more about who you are than a jumpshot alone ever could. He graduated more than 96 percent of his players and taught his teams to point to the teammate who passed them the ball after a basket.
“He pushed forward the Civil Rights movement, recruiting the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helping to integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill. And in his final years, Coach Smith showed us how to fight an illness with courage and dignity. For all of that, I couldn’t have been prouder to honor Coach Smith with (the) Medal of Freedom in 2013.”
Smith coached North Carolina’s men’s basketball team from 1961 to 1997. He retired as college basketball’s winningest coach with an 879-254 (.776) win-loss record, per Sports-Reference.com. Along the way, he won two national titles (1982 and 1993), 13 ACC Tournament titles, 11 Final Fours an NIT championship and an Olympic gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics for Team U.S.A.
GoHeels.com lists some of Smith’s other noteworthy achievements:
- One of ESPN’s SportsCentury’s seven greatest coaches of the 20th century along with Red Auerbach, Bear Bryant, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, John McGraw and John Wooden.
- The ACC’s Coach of the Year in 1993
- Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1997
- A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the FIBA Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
- His players had a graduation rate of at least 95 percent.
- More than 50 of his players went on to play in the NBA, ABA or overseas.
- Three of his fomer players — Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Billy Cunningham — were named to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1997.
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