College basketball lost one of its greats late Saturday night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. One of the all-time winningest head coaches in NCAA history, the former Tarheel head coach passed away in his home in the presence of his wife and five children. Smith’s health had been declining over the past few years.
“Coach Dean Smith passed away peacefully the evening of February 7 at his home in Chapel Hill, and surrounded by his wife and five children,” the Smith family said in a statement to the Washington Post. “We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as arrangements are made available to the public. Thank you.”
Many people only knew Dean Smith as a basketball coach, but it was his values off the court that earned him respect nationally. His fight against racism and segregation when it was most prevalent in the South and the guidance he gave his players to prepare for their futures after basketball defined what Coach Smith was all about. In 2013, Dean Smith was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. His influence spread far beyond his players. It ranged from his family to nearly all college basketball fans across the country (except for Duke fans).
Smith has gone down as one of the most influential coaches of all time. According to Michael Jordan, in a statement from USA Today, he was much more than just a coach.
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. 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.”
Coach Dean Smith retired from college basketball in 1997 with the most wins as a head coach in NCAA history, after passing Kentucky great Adolph Rupp. Current Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who says that he was honored to have met Smith, has now since taken over that prestigious title.
“Dean possessed one of the greatest basketball minds, and was a magnificent teacher and tactician. While building an elite program at North Carolina, he was clearly ahead of his time in dealing with social issues,” Coach Krzyzewski said in a statement from the Washington Post. “However, his greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man. That was easy for him to do because he was a great man himself.”
Throughout a 40 year career that entailed coaching two of the best professional basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan and James Worthy, Smith’s coaching commendations decorate his illustrious career. This includes 13 ACC tournament championships and two NCAA titles, along with being elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. More than 50 former players coached by Dean Smith have gone on to play professionally, including the likes of Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, and the aforementioned Worthy and Jordan, along with many more.
In addition to wife Linnea, Smith is survived by daughters Sandy, Sharon, Kristen and Kelly; son Scott; and several grandchildren.