The next morning Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill was a trail of tears. DEAN, OLD FRIEND...PLEASE, SAY IT AIN'T SO! implored a sign outside Sutton's Drug Store. Clerks at the Shrunken Head Boutique, an emporium for Tar Heels T-shirts and other powder-blue regalia, fielded calls from Georgia, Ohio, even California, asking for anything pertaining to Smith, and then shut the store for the afternoon's press conference. Even in the Java joints along the town's main drag, slackers buzzed over the news.
Those who cared to look might have seen this coming. North Carolina wrestling coach Bill Lam had passed Smith on campus a couple of days earlier and said. "How ya doin', Coach?"
"I'm really tired," Smith replied.
Lam, an irrepressible man of 54, shot back, "Oh, when you hit the floor the first day of practice, you'll get that shot of adrenaline and be ready to go."
"I'm really tired," Smith said again.
He nonetheless said health had nothing to do with his decision. A physical on Oct. 6 had found him fine, except for some extra pounds he could afford to lose. Certainly his coaching skills hadn't declined; last season's Tar Heels opened the ACC schedule with three losses and then ripped off 16 straight wins to reach the Final Four. "He never makes comparative statements," said Woody Durham, the school's longtime broadcaster, "but I thought he enjoyed the last part of last season as much as any."
No, it wasn't some big thing. "It was all the little things that got him," said Guthridge, who assisted Smith for 30 years. "There weren't hundreds of people who wanted his autograph, wanted to shake his hand, wanted him to make an appearance, there were thousands. He was playing golf in Ireland in late August and even got hounded over there."
Those unfamiliar with Smith's utterances on the subject of retirement over the past decade might have found the timing of his decision bizarre, coming scarcely a week before the start of fall practice. In fact, his exit unspooled exactly as longtime North Car-olinologists expected it would. Smith would never announce at the beginning of a season that this would be his last. "Could you imagine how many rocking chairs I'd get," he said last week, "and all those people acting like they like you?" Nor would he want to saddle his successor with a thin team, and this year's Tar Heels, with six returning regulars justifying a No. 1 ranking in several preseason magazines, bristles with talent. And forget about quitting in April. He had learned not to trust April; he always felt like quitting in April.
Until this year the pattern had been the same. "After the season we'd get him out to play golf, get him to relax," said Guthridge. "And I always knew that if late August rolled around and he said. "I'm sick of playing golf,' we had him. This time the season rolled around, and he wasn't quite ready."
Of course, Smith's timing assured that Guthridge, 60, would be offered the job and, because of the exigencies, would have to take it, notwithstanding Guthridge's repeated insistence over the years that he expected to retire when his boss did. There would be no time to convene a search committee to interview Carolina expatriates like Brown, Kansas coach Roy Williams and South Carolina's Eddie Fogler, or to consider alien candidates like Chapel Hill chancellor Michael Hooker's good buddy John Calipari. On the sidelines Smith was always several moves ahead of everyone else; why would he leave any differently?