LANHAM, Md. (WNEW/AP) — Dean Smith, the North Carolina basketball coaching great who won two national championships, has died. He was 83.
The retired Hall of Fame coach died “peacefully” at his home Saturday night, the school said in a statement Sunday from Smith’s family. He was with his wife and five children.
Roy Williams, the current North Carolina coach who spent 10 years as Smith’s assistant, said Smith “was the greatest there ever 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,” Williams said in a statement. “We love him and we will miss him.”
Smith coached the Tar Heels from 1961-97. He retired as the winningest coach in the sport with 879 victories. He won NCAA titles in 1982 and 1993, and coached such players as Michael Jordan and James Worthy.
He reached 11 Final Fours, won 13 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles and coached the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in 1976.
106.7 The Fan spoke with sportswriter, author and sports commentator John Feinstein Sunday morning about his relationship with Smith.
The very first time I met [Smith] was as a college junior in 1976. I had written a column in the student newspaper at Duke saying that Bill Foster, who was the coach at Duke, need look no further than 10 miles down the road in Chapel Hill to find a program to model Duke after when Duke was trying to rebuild at that point. Duke played [North] Carolina in Chapel Hill and Carolina won easily. After the game, I was trying to write a column about Tate Armstrong, who was Duke’s best player. I went over to the locker room and introduced myself to Dean. And he looked at me and said, “Oh yes, I read your column about what Bill should do to build his program. I thought you were very fair to us, especially being from Duke.” He knocked me backwards with that. That was actually the beginning of a very warm, sometimes adversarial relationship.
Feinstein continued to speak highly of Smith.
He was important to me and so many people, which I think is the ultimate testament to somebody’s life. He was as good of a coach as there ever was. He was one of the great innovators in the game. You see teams huddle up before every free throw. That was Dean; nobody did that before Dean. Senior Day – at every school where you bring in every relative a player ever had, walk them on the court and give them a big plaque. Dean invented Senior Day. He was unique. As much as I respect so many other coaches, there’s nobody I ever respected more than Dean Smith.
Smith had health issues in recent years, with the family saying in 2010 he had a condition that was causing him to lose memory.
He had kept a lower profile during that time, with his wife, Linnea, accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf from President Barack Obama in November 2013.
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