02/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
This past weekend, a legend in the world of sports passed away. Former University of North Carolina head coach Dean Smith died on February 7th, just a little over two weeks before what would have been his 84th birthday.
Dean Smith retired from coaching in 1997 at the age of 66 after a career that spanned 36 years with a .776 winning percentage. His first head coaching job at UNC in 1961 was the only head coaching job he would hold at the collegiate level. He won 879 games during his career, which was the most wins in NCAA Basketball history at that time (Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski have since passed his win total).
Smith won 2 National Championships at North Carolina in 1982 and 1993. His teams won 17 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, 13 ACC Tournament Championships, and his teams appeared in the Final Four 11 times. He also won an NIT title in 1971 (when the NIT actually meant something), and coached the United States mens basketball team to a gold medal win in 1976. Smith was named National Coach of the Year 4 times, and the ACC Coach of the Year 9 times. He was elected into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 1983, and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
But results on the court were just one part of what Dean Smith deemed "The Carolina Way". In the world of college athletics, where it seems new rules violations or accusations appear in front of almost every successful sports program, Smith ran a clean program throughout his career. During his coaching tenure, the graduation rate for players was 96.6%.
But Smith was more than just a basketball coach at North Carolina. He was leader off the court as well. In 1966, he gave the first athletic scholarship at UNC to an African-American athlete, when he recruited Charlie Scott. Smith spoke out often on political issues and promoted desegregation, most famously joining a local pastor to help integrate a restaurant in Chapel Hill at the height of the civil rights movement.
Dementia would plague the final years of Dean Smith's life. But just like in coaching, running a clean program, and battling segregation, Smith fought a good fight until the day he passed away. The day after Smith's death, President Obama released a statement that sums up exactly what Dean Smith was.
"America lost not just a coaching legend, but a gentleman, and a citizen".
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