With the passing of Dean Smith, this is a good time to reflect on his impact specifically on Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, and the Atlantic Coast Conference, and in general on college basketball. As the all-time name and face of Tar Heels basketball, he was picked on by NC State and other college basketball fans. Most of the picking was meant to be light-hearted. Those who didn’t feel that way didn’t understand his greatness.
For the town of Chapel Hill, Smith’s respect is reflected by his devotion to the mission of Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, which, according to its website, is a community of faith on a journey that calls for questioning, humility and conviction. As followers of Jesus, we embrace spiritual growth, mutual care and service, assured that as we serve out neighbors, we joyfully serve God. Intentionally inclusive, we welcome people of all races, sexual orientations, and cultures, respecting diverse religious experience within the church and beyond. We invite others to join us in our commitment to peace, justice, and care for creation. That was Dean Smith, a famous face connected to a caring congregation. That mission easily sums how he approached his job as coach.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, he took what Everett Case of NC State and Frank McGuire at North Carolina developed before him and fine-tuned it into a program that was both respected and hated—maybe that’s too strong; maybe the dislike was envy run amok—throughout the league by fans, coaches and players alike. Smith was a student of the game and imaginative in his approach, developing active defenses that resulted in aggressive offenses. He will always be known as a great basketball coach in the ACC and throughout college basketball.
At UNC, he will always cast a shadow over those who came before him, including McGuire, those who have come after him, including Roy Williams, and those who will come later. At NC State, it was Case who put the Wolfpack on the college basketball map, dominating the old Southern Conference and later the early ACC, but after Case aged and retired, Norm Sloan made his mark, not replacing Case but earning a seat next to him. Then Jim Valvano came to Raleigh and created another totally different chapter for the Wolfpack, one that also sits alongside Case and Sloan.
With Smith, his shadow at UNC lengthened after his retirement in 1997. Those who have followed him as the head coach are nowhere close to where Smith established his place in Carolina basketball history. It has been 18 years since Smith coached a game there, yet he remains the standard for all Tar Heel fans. Others at UNC may win more games and more championships, but none will equal or surpass Dean Smith, especially if those who follow are part of the UNC family of players and coaches. It will take an extraordinary person, a superior coach, one not associated with Carolina to come close to toppling Smith from the Tar Heels top spot. And that’s a high standard, a tough mountain to climb, a challenge some will refuse knowing failure is more possible than surpassing the legend.
Dictionary.com word of the day
peacock (verb) [pee-kok]: to make a vainglorious display; strut like a peacock