Smith coached from 1961 to 1997 and finished his career with a record of 879 wins, a record only surpassed by Bobby Knight in 2006 for the most victories by any NCAA Division I men's basketball coach. Smith has the 9th highest winning percentage of any men’s college basketball coach at 77.6. During his time as head coach of UNC, the team won two national titles and appeared in 11 Final Fours.
Smith is also known for running a clean program and having a high graduation rate for his players with 96.6% players going on to graduate. While at UNC, Smith helped promote desegregation by recruiting UNC’s first African American scholarship player Charlie Scott and pushing for equal treatment for African Americans by local businesses.
Dean Smith coached and worked with numerous individuals at UNC that went on to achieve notable success in basketball, as either players or coaches or both. These include Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Phil Ford, Jerry Stackhouse, Roy Williams, Larry Brown, George Karl, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith, Antawn Jamison, and Rasheed Wallace.
Smith retired as head coach from UNC in 1997 saying that he was not able to give the team the same level of enthusiasm that he had had given it for years. Since retirement, Smith has used his influence to help out in various charitable ventures and political activities.
Smith was born in Emporia, Kansas on February 28, 1931. Both of his parents were public school teachers. Smith's father, Alfred, coached basketball himself and coached the Emporia High Spartans to the 1934 state title in Kansas with the first black basketball player in Kansas tournament history. While at Topeka High School Smith lettered in basketball all four years and was named all-state in basketball as a senior. Smith's interest in sports was not limited only to basketball. Smith also played quarterback for his high school football team and catcher for the high school baseball team.
After graduating from high school, Smith attended the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship where he majored in mathematics. While at Kansas, Smith continued his interest in sports by playing varsity basketball, varsity baseball, and freshman football. During his time on the varsity basketball team, Kansas won the national championship in 1952 and finished second in 1953. Smith's basketball coach during his time at Kansas was the legendary Forrest "Phog" Allen, who in turn was coached in college by James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. After graduation, Smith served as assistant coach at Kansas in the 1953–54 season. Ironically, after leaving Kansas Smith watched with disappointment as the University of Kansas team that he had helped coach lost to UNC in the 1957 national championship game in triple overtime.
Smith next served a stint in the United States Air Force in Germany, and then worked at the United States Air Force Academy as head coach of its baseball and golf teams. In 1958, North Carolina coach Frank McGuire asked Smith to join his staff as an assistant coach. Smith served under McGuire for three years until 1961, when McGuire was forced to resign by Chancellor William Aycock in the wake of recruiting scandals. Aycock asked Smith, then 30 years old, to become the new head coach.
Years at North Carolina
Smith's first years as head coach were difficult. In his first season as head coach, the ACC had cancelled the Dixie Classic, an annual basketball tournament in North Carolina, because of a national point shaving scandal that included four N.C. State players (Don Gallagher, Stan Niewierowski, and Terry Litchfield) and one UNC player (Lou Brown). As a result of the scandal, both N.C. State and UNC de-emphasized basketball by cutting their regular-season schedules. In Smith's first season from 1961-62, UNC played only 17 games and went 8-9. As it turned out, this would be the only losing season he would ever suffer.
In 1965, he was famously hanged in effigy on the university campus after a disappointing loss to Wake Forest. After that game, his team ended up winning nine of the last eleven games. After a slow beginning, Smith turned the program into a consistent success. After the 1966 season, Smith would never finish lower than third in the ACC. His first major successes came in the late 1960s, when his teams won three consecutive regular-season and tournament championships in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and went to three straight Final Fours.
While Smith was generally known for being a fairly even-keel coach, he was ejected from the 1991 Final Four game between UNC and Kansas after receiving two technical fouls.
It took Smith seven trips to the Final Four before winning his first national title, and then it took him nine more years to return, and two more to get another national championship.
Smith announced his retirement on October 9, 1997. He had said that if he ever felt he could not give his team the same enthusiasm he had given it for years, he would retire. His announcement was a shock to the basketball community and fans, as he had given little warning that he was considering retirement. Smith had been the only coach many UNC fans had ever known. Bill Guthridge, his assistant for 30 years, succeeded him as head coach.
Even in retirement, some believe that Smith still has a large influence on the current North Carolina basketball program. For example, in 2003 Smith talked to Roy Williams regarding his decision about whether or not to replace a struggling Matt Doherty as head coach. Williams had previously declined the head coaching position three years earlier when Guthridge retired.
Smith-coached teams varied in style, depending on the players Smith had available. But they generally featured a fast-break style, a half-court offense that emphasized the passing game, and an aggressive trapping defense that produced turnovers and easy baskets. His teams always shot the ball well. From 1970 until his retirement, North Carolina shot over 50 percent from the floor all but four years.
Smith is credited with creating or popularizing the following basketball techniques:
1. The "tired signal," in which a player would use a hand signal (originally a raised fist) to indicate that he needed to come out for a rest;
2. Huddling at the free throw line before a foul shot;
3. Encouraging players who scored a basket to point a finger at the teammate who passed them the ball, in honor of the passer's selflessness;
4 .Instituting a variety of defensive sets in one game;
5. Having the point guard call out the defense set for the team;
6. Creating a number of defensive sets, including the point zone, the run-and-jump, and double-teaming the screen-and-roll.
But strategically, Smith's is mostly associated with his implemenation of the four corners offense, a strategy for stalling with a lead near the end of the game. Smith's teams executed the four corners set so effectively that in 1985, the NCAA instituted a shot clock to speed up play and minimize ball-control offense. Although fellow Kansas alum John McClendon actually invented the four corners offense, Smith is better known for utilizing it in games.
Smith also instituted the practice of starting all his team's seniors on the last home game of the season ("Senior Day") as a way of honoring the contributions of the subs as well as the stars. In one season when the team included six seniors, he opted to put all six on the floor at the beginning of the game – drawing a technical foul – rather than leave one of them out.
Smith is also the author of Basketball: Multiple Offense and Defense, which is the best-selling technical basketball book in history.
Accomplishments & Recognition
Among the accomplishments of Smith:
879 wins in 36 years of coaching, 2nd most in men's college Division I basketball history behind Bobby Knight. Adolph Rupp's 876 wins came after 41 years of coaching.
77.6% winning percentage, which puts him 9th on highest winning percentage.
Fourth total number of college games coached with 1,133.
Most Division I 20-win seasons, with 27 consecutive 20-win seasons from 1970-1997 and 30 20-win seasons total.
22 seasons with at least 25 wins
35 consecutive seasons with a 50% or better record.
Two national championships (1982, 1993)
11 Final Fours (second all-time to John Wooden's 12).
17 regular-season ACC titles, plus 33 straight years finishing in the conference's top three and 20 years in the top two
13 ACC tournament titles
27 NCAA tournament appearances, including 23 consecutive.
96.6% graduation rate among players.
Recruited 26 All-Americans to play at North Carolina under him.
His players were often successful in the NBA. Five of Smith's players have been Rookie of the Year in either the NBA or ABA. Among Smith's most successful players in the NBA are Michael Jordan, Larry Brown, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Phil Ford, Bob McAdoo, Billy Cunningham, Kenny Smith, Walter Davis, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Rick Fox, Vince Carter and Rasheed Wallace. Smith coached 25 NBA first round draft picks.
In 1976, Smith coached the United States team to a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Montreal. Smith was selected after the United States' controversial second-place finish at the 1972 games.
Smith is one of only three coaches to have coached teams to an Olympic gold medal, an NIT championship and an NCAA championship. The others are Pete Newell and Bobby Knight.
Smith is one of only two people that have both played on and coached a winning NCAA championship basketball team. The other is Bobby Knight.
Smith received a number of personal honors during his coaching career. He was named the National Coach of the Year four times (1977, 1979, 1982, 1993) and ACC Coach of the Year eight times (1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1988, 1993). Smith was also inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on May 2, 1983, two years after being enshrined in the North Carolina Hall of Fame.
Smith was the first recipient of the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, given by the University of North Carolina Committee on Teaching Awards for "a broader range of teaching beyond the classroom." He has also been awarded honorary doctorates by Eastern University and Catawba College.
The basketball arena at UNC, the Dean Smith Center, was named for Smith. It is also widely referred to as the "Dean Dome". In 1997, upon his retirement, Smith was named Sportsman of the Year by the magazine Sports Illustrated. ESPN named Smith one of the five all-time greatest American coaches of any sport.
In 1998 he won the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, presented at the annual ESPY Awards hosted by ESPN.
On November 17, 2006, Smith was recognized for his impact on college basketball as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He was one of five, along with Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, John Wooden and Dr. James Naismith, selected to represent the inaugural class.
Smith is one of the most prominent liberals in North Carolina politics. Politically, he is best known for promoting desegregation. In 1964, Smith joined a local pastor and a black UNC theology student to integrate The Pines, a Chapel Hill restaurant. He also integrated the Tar Heels basketball team by recruiting Charlie Scott as the university's first black scholarship athlete. In 1965, Smith helped Howard Lee, a black graduate student at UNC, purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood.
He opposed the Vietnam War and, in the early 1980s, famously recorded radio spots to promote a freeze on nuclear weapons. He has been a prominent opponent of the death penalty. In 1998, he appeared at a clemency hearing for a death-row inmate and pointed at then-Governor Jim Hunt: "You're a murderer. And I'm a murderer. The death penalty makes us all murderers." As head coach, he periodically held UNC basketball practices in North Carolina prisons.
While coach, he was recruited by some in the Democratic Party to run for the United States Senate against incumbent Jesse Helms. He declined. But in retirement, he has continued to speak out on issues such as the war in Iraq and gay rights. Although a staunch Democrat, Smith did support one of his former players, Republican Richard Vinroot, for governor of North Carolina in 2000.
In 2006, Smith became the spokesperson for Devout Democrats, an inter-faith, grassroots political action committee designed to convince religious Americans to vote for Democrats. Smith was featured in an ad that is running in newspapers across North Carolina and was featured in an Associated Press article.
One hallmark of Smith's tenure as coach was the concept of the "Carolina Family," the idea that anyone associated with the program was entitled to the support of others. Many of his former players and assistant coaches have followed Smith into the coaching profession.
Roy Williams, former KU coach and UNC coach since 2003
Bill Guthridge, Smith's successor at UNC
Matt Doherty, a former Smith player and former Notre Dame and later UNC coach who now coaches at SMU
George Karl, a point guard under Smith, currently coach of the Denver Nuggets
Larry Brown, a former Smith player, the former coach of the New York Knicks, winner of championships in both the NBA (Detroit Pistons) and college (Kansas)
Eddie Fogler, former National Coach of the Year at both Vanderbilt and South Carolina
Billy Cunningham, coach of the 1983 NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers
Jeff Lebo, coach at Auburn
Buzz Peterson, coach at Coastal Carolina, previously at Appalachian State, Tulsa, and Tennessee
Mitch Kupchak, general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers
Tony Shaver, reserve point guard under Smith, now head coach at William & Mary
Terry Truax, former Smith assistant and former head coach at Towson
Randy Wiel, former Smith player and former head coach at Middle Tennessee and UNC Asheville
Phil Ford, former Smith player and former assistant coach at UNC as well as the Detroit Pistons and currently an assistant coach for the New York Knicks.
Dave Hanners, former Smith player and former assistant coach at UNC as well as the Detroit Pistons and currently an assistant coach for the New York Knicks.