It’s no secret: Dean Smith didn’t like Norman Sloan. And Sloan didn’t like Smith. The two were like night and day when it came to coaching. Smith created a “system” (whatever that means) at North Carolina in an effort to build a national contender while Sloan lived for the day and won a national title at NC State eight years before Smith reached that pinnacle. By that time, Sloan was two years departed from the Wolfpack so Smith couldn’t gloat on the court face to face with Sloan.
Head to head when Sloan was at State, Smith’s Tar Heels won 25 of 39 games against the Wolfpack. But it was the game of recruiting in the early 1970s that got Smith’s goat. One year, Sloan snatched 7’4” Tommy Burleson away from Carolina and Smith. The next year another North Carolina native, 6’4” David Thompson—who turned out to be the best ever basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference—ignored Smith’s pleas to matriculate in Chapel Hill and chose Raleigh and NC State. After losing 14 times in his first 15 games against Smith, Sloan coached his Wolfpack to nine straight wins over Smith’s Tar Heels, winning 1973 aand 1974 CC championships—regular season and tournament—and the NCAA title in 1974.
State may have won two national titles back to back, but the Wolfpack, undefeated in 1973, was on probation that season, much in part because associates of Smith pressed the NCAA to investigate the Wolfpack. Smith didn’t take the losses of Burleson and Thompson cordially. The violations were minor but were made to appear major. Smith was trying to build his program and expected to win the state of North Carolina recruiting wars. He may have beaten State 25 times on the court in 14 seasons, but the two losses, Burleson and Thompson, bugged him.
State’s violations are well know and outlined in Chapter 3 of my book, 1973-74 Reliving the NC State Wolfpack’s Title Run (CaryTown Press). The violations were nowhere close to misgivings of today, but nonetheless, State was found guilty. Smith must have been smiling from ear to ear after hearing of State’s penalty of sitting year, wasting the talents of Burleson and Thompson who he wanted and couldn’t get. Smith and Sloan tolerated each other but did like each other.
From the book: There are some who believe the probation was unnecessary and was the result of Chancellor (John) Caldwell’s insistence, after talking to the head basketball coach and other athletics department personnel, to the NCAA that State did nothing wrong. Many felt that if State’s administrators had admitted guilt, wrists would have been slapped and the Wolfpack would have not faced probation.
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