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One Shining Example
Alexander Wolff
April 13, 2005
He retired in 1997 as his sport's winningest coach, but Dean Smith will be remembered for doing things the right way
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April 13, 2005

One Shining Example

He retired in 1997 as his sport's winningest coach, but Dean Smith will be remembered for doing things the right way

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We played a box-and-one, with Yogi Poteet, who was 6' 1", guarding their best player, Cotton Nash, who was 6' 5". Cotton literally couldn't get the ball. Afterward I told Coach Smith it was the best-coached game I'd ever seen. You could see his genius even then.

He had put in a play two or three days before the game. We called it the Kentucky play. Larry [ Brown, Carolina's point guard] would bring the ball down the floor and take it into the middle, and the other four players would back out to the corners. Once, Larry drove to the foul line, and I slid in from the corner, and he dished it to me for a basket. That may have been the first Four Corners layup, though it didn't have that name at the time.

JOAN SMITH EWING:
After the Wake Forest game he called me with the score. Reverend Seymour called me too--he had gone over and sat with Dean most of the night. I remember him searching, asking himself if he was doing the right thing with his life.

INSTALLING THE SYSTEM, 1965-82

"It was as if he said, 'Just do as I say, and we'll win'"

After seeing their coach dangling from a tree, the 1964-65 Tar Heels went on to win nine of their remaining 11 games. The following season they added Smith's breakthrough recruit, a swaggering forward from Pennsylvania named Larry Miller. Freed at last from NCAA purgatory, finally with a team of his own choosing, the coach began to put together something that, if it wasn't a system--he bristles at the word, for to him it connotes rigidity--did have a kind of daunting industrial strength.

Smith started to make a family of the players passing through his program, from which none would be entirely weaned. (His feistiness in showing his loyalty once caused Terry Holland, then Virginia's coach, to remark, "There's such a gap between the man and the image the man tries to project.") In keeping with the spirit of a time of social turbulence, Smith did his own groping and struggling, both personally and professionally. During the 1970s he divorced and remarried, and he was widely second-guessed for losses in which he ordered his team into the Four Corners too early. Given his nature, he did plenty of second-guessing himself. Rules remained at the foundation of his philosophy. But no rule was exempt from the test of reason, which would sometimes introduce a rule to its exception.

LARRY MILLER, forward, 1965-68:
One of his rules was that we had to go to church on Sunday and bring back a brochure to prove we'd gone. After I didn't go a couple of weeks Coach Smith called me into his office. At the time I had objections to what I thought was hypocrisy in the church. So I told him that if I were at home, my parents wouldn't make me go--that I could have had someone grab a brochure for me, but that wouldn't have been right. I asked him to respect my beliefs. And he did.

CHARLIE HOAG, college teammate and fraternity brother:
I remember him telling me once that he recruits the parents harder than the kids. "Parents help me sell the kid," he told me. "And if the kids don't respect their parents, they sure won't respect me."

GEORGE KARL, guard, 1969-73:
Before we lost in the 1972 Final Four, he said Florida State was a team we probably shouldn't press. But we'd pressed all year, so we weren't going to change. He was right; we shouldn't have pressed. But it showed that he wasn't going to back off his belief in us. We returned that belief with our belief in him.

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