The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill mourns the death of Dean Smith, Carolina’s beloved and admired basketball coach from 1961 to 1997. He was widely known as a leader on the court, throughout the Carolina community and across the country.
“The Carolina family lost a cherished member today,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “Over the next few days, people around the world will pause to remember Coach Smith, honor his legacy and grieve his passing. We can find solace in knowing that because of his leadership on and off the court, the world is a better and more accepting place.
“Everyone who knew Coach Smith has stories to share about his kindness to others and his love for Carolina. He was truly a giant who lived a life that was an inspiration to so many, and the love they gave back was heartfelt and genuine. I hope his wife, Linnea, and his family are feeling the warm embrace of all who loved him.”
A teacher and humanitarian, Smith was an outspoken advocate for equality and fairness in collegiate athletics and civic affairs. On the court, he brought standout player Charles Scott to Chapel Hill in 1966 as the University’s first African American scholarship athlete, essentially introducing diversity to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Off the court, Smith was active in the local Civil Rights movement and pushed local business owners to open their doors to everyone. Over the many decades of coaching, more than 95 percent of his lettermen graduated.
“Coach Smith was always so much more than a brilliant basketball strategist,” said Lowry Caudill, chair of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. “He was a father figure to his players, a loyal friend to his associates, a compassionate humanitarian who championed equality, and a strong advocate for the importance of education. He cared about others more than himself. He will forever be remembered as a giant in the history of our great University. We are grateful to his wife, Linnea, and his family for sharing him with all of us for so many years.”
Smith’s philosophy, faith and talent brought acclaim and respect to the University. Beyond championships, Smith received many individual awards, most recently the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his humanitarian legacy. Yet Smith – a selfless, humble and private man – was always the first to remind people that the real credit for his career went to those around him: his players, coaches, staff and colleagues.
“We lost a man of the highest integrity who did so many things off the court to help make the world a better place to live in,” said UNC head basketball coach Roy Williams, who had played for and coached under Smith. “He was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people. His concern for people will be the legacy I will remember most.
Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham echoed Williams’ sentiment. “Dean Smith was a legendary Hall of Fame coach who will long be remembered as an innovator in the game of basketball and a pioneer for social justice. His legacy will always be a part of the University of North Carolina and will continue to inspire students for generations to come.”
Folt said the University community was grateful to Smith for dedicating so much of his life to enriching Carolina in many ways. “His dedication to opening doors for all people to achieve their goals contributed to UNC’s reputation for achievement in academics and in life,” she said. “From his very public coaching successes to his quiet support of programs and people at UNC and beyond, he advanced this great public university and what it stands for. As deeply as the Carolina family feels his loss, we know his family and close friends feel it more intensely. I extend our collective gratitude to Coach Smith, and send wishes of comfort and peace to his family and close friends.”
The Atlantic Coast Conference has suggested that ACC schools observe a moment of silence at their next home men’s basketball games, perhaps prior to the playing of the national anthem.
Plans for a public celebration of Smith’s life and memorial gifts will be announced separately.
Published Feb. 8, 2014.