Yesterday the basketball world said good-bye to one the best coaches in its history, and more importantly, a wonderful human being.
Emporia, KS native Dean Smith played for and coached under Kansas' legendary coach, Phog Allen, but he went on to establish legendary status of his own at North Carolina, his fast-breaking style and tough trapping defenses helping to revolutionize the game forever.
Hired as an assistant in 1958 to North Carolina coach Frank McGuire, Smith took on the monumental challenge of stabilizing a Tar Heel program that was near death after being found guilty of major NCAA infractions coupled with a point shaving scandal of 1961 that saw McGuire's resignation. Unthinkable as it may seem today, due to those sanctions North Carolina moved to de-emphasize their basketball program. Taking that job, under those circumstances, could have derailed Smith's career. Yet, armed with the patient integrity that would become synonymous with his name and career, Smith rebuilt and redeemed the Carolina program. Just five years after disgrace, Smith led the Tar Heels to the 1967 Final Four. It would be the first of three straight trips to the national semi-finals on his way to 11 Final Four appearances total and 2 National Titles in 36 years.
The University of Kansas tried to get Coach Smith back a few times, and while he chose to stay and further cement his legacy at Carolina, he never forgot his Alma Mater, doing his best to strengthen it from afar. It was Smith who suggested to Kansas that they hire his former player, Larry Brown, in 1983, a time when the Kansas basketball was at its lowest point in its history. After Brown brought a title to Lawrence in 1988 and then left, it was Coach Smith yet again who offered up the perfect candidate to sustain the returned success at Kansas - his longtime assistant, Roy Williams.
Much more important than basketball though, Coach Smith was a dedicated and earnest fighter for civil and human rights. The son of the Free State fought for desegregation in 1960s North Carolina, joining with black clergy to demand equal treatment and service for the black population of Chapel Hill. In 1966 he recruited and signed Charlie Scott, the first black scholarship athlete in UNC's history. He spoke out against the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation and the death penalty. The man was unafraid to use his prominence to stand up for what he believed was right.
Coach Smith was a champion in the game of basketball and in life. Rest in peace, you son of Kansas.
Job so very, very well done.