You know you have achieved when you are known only by your first name. In basketball circles, if you say “Dean,” everyone knows you are talking about Dean Smith, the Hall of Fame North Carolina coach, who passed away on February 7th, 2015.
He was a basketball coaching giant whom I had the pleasure of working with in Overland Park, Kansas while directing a Medalist One-Man Clinic. The only coach presenting for two days was Coach Smith. He gave the best clinic I have ever attended. He first taught a principle, for example the end of the Carolina fast break, on the overhead. He then had the players demonstrating for the clinic run the end of the break on the floor. Finally, he showed game film of that phase of the break. He followed this same format for every phase of the game that he taught. It was superb teaching.
John Wooden once said of Coach Smith, “He was the best teacher of basketball I have ever seen.” He may have been the most prolific innovator ever in the game. He was the first I knew of to have the scorer acknowledge the passer; the first to have all teammates help pick up the man who took the charge; and his end-of- game clock usage was legendary. He created the Run and Jump, the T-game, and Four Corners. I am sure I have forgotten more of his innovations.
When he retired, he was the winningest coach in Division I basketball with his 879 wins.
But his coaching basketball was a far second to what he meant to those who played for him. Many of them referred to him as a second father. They knew he was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Education took priority to basketball as his players graduated. He was in the life of his players and managers long after they graduated. He remembered all of them and knew most of their wives and children. He was truly a life-coach.
Most of us involved in basketball know the above about Coach Smith’s commitment to the teaching of the game and, more importantly, his life-long commitment to his players and their families. Some may not know during his fourth season as coach of North Carolina, his team returned from an away game only to find him hung in effigy as they entered the campus.
What a journey! From hung in effigy to being the recipient of the highest honor a civilian can receive in our country, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and, although he resisted, to having the North Carolina arena named in his honor.
The weekend I worked with him I experienced first-hand what a great teacher of basketball he was. I certainly brought a great deal of his knowledge to our team. But one thing impressed me even more – his genuine humility. You never would have known that he was one of the best ever in his chosen profession.
His greatest legacy has little to do with his basketball. It has everything to do with the loyalty his players have for him because he was truly a life-coach.
If leaders take anything from this great coach and even greater man’s legacy, let it be his humility. He treated everyone with respect, kindness, and dignity and never wore his many successes on his sleeve. It was never about him but always about you.