Dean Smith, the coaching innovator who won two national championships at North Carolina, an Olympic gold medal in 1976 and induction into basketball’s Hall of Fame more than a decade before he left the bench, has died. He was 83.
The retired coach died “peacefully” at his North Carolina home Saturday night, the school said in a statement Sunday from Smith’s family. He was with his wife and five children.
Smith had health issues in recent years, with the family saying in 2010 that he had a condition that was causing him to lose memory. He had kept a lower profile during that time. His wife, Linnea, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his behalf from President Barack Obama in November 2013.
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.”
In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Smith coached the likes of Michael Jordan and James Worthy and influenced the game and how it is played in ways that are unrivaled.
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith,” Jordan said in a statement. “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.”
Smith’s Four Corners time-melting offense led to the creation of the shot clock to counter it. He was the first coach at North Carolina, and among the first in the segregated South, to offer a scholarship to a black athlete. The now-common “point to the passer,” in which a scorer acknowledges a teammate’s assist, started in Chapel Hill and became a hallmark of Smith’s always humble “Carolina Way.”
He was a direct coaching descendant of basketball’s father, James Naismith, playing and later coaching at Kansas for the inventor of the game’s most famous student, Jayhawks coach Phog Allen.
Smith would pass lessons learned in Kansas along at North Carolina, adding more than a few of his own. He tutored perhaps the game’s greatest player, Jordan, who burst onto the national stage as a freshman on Smith’s 1982 national title team, and two of basketball’s most successful coaches, fellow Hall of Famers Larry Brown and Williams.