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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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MATT DOHERTY, forward, 1981-84:
In a team meeting once we were going over a trapping defense, and he referred to "the farthest point down the court." Then he stopped and said, "You know why I said 'farthest,' not 'furthest?' Because far, F-A-R, deals with distance." That's an English lesson I got with the basketball team, and I've never forgotten it.

S.L. PRICE, sportswriter, The Daily Tar Heel, 1981-83:
When they were building the Dean Dome, I wrote a column arguing that it was an extravagance, that athletes on campus were coddled, that the school could learn from Notre Dame and Harvard, where athletes lived among the other students. There was a huge uproar. There were letters to the paper. Roy Williams took me to task. The chancellor called me into his office. Their reaction was, We're North Carolina. How could you possibly criticize the way we do things?

Dean wrote me and asked me to come by his office at the end of the season. I was a know-it-all senior, and from my experience with everyone else I expected a dressing-down. But his reaction wasn't, Who are you or How dare you? He wanted to know what I knew, whether the system had gotten out of hand--whether there was something I could teach him that he didn't know. He was a man who didn't think he had all the answers. I left Chapel Hill with an understanding that here was the one guy who didn't buy into the myth that had been created around him.

Early in my career at Duke, I prepared hard for every opponent, but even harder for North Carolina, to the point of over-coaching. After several years I asked myself why I changed to play them. Why not have a system of our own--the way they have a system of their own--to beat anyone, them included? Then playing them wouldn't be a matter of adjusting. It would be a matter of habit.

I learned from Dean that a system works against anybody. And probably the biggest win in the development of our program came right after I made that change, in 1984, when they were No. 1 and had Jordan and Perkins.

JEFF LEBO, guard, 1985-89:
He quit smoking my junior year. In a team meeting, before he quit, his nose started to bleed. It filled up a towel, but he wouldn't stop the meeting. "When you have a big nose, it bleeds a lot," he said. He missed like a week of practice after that, which was unbelievable, but doctor's orders. I think that helped get him to give up smoking.

He was a little on the cranky side the season he quit, not quite as patient. We all knew what he was going through. Some days we'd be saying, Oh, man, somebody give him a cigarette.

In the early 1990s our church went through a very painful crisis. A senior at Duke Divinity School asked to be ordained and indicated he was gay. This fractured the congregation. The church did the right thing, licensing him to preach as a seminarian. We lost some members, but Dean didn't waver in his support. He wasn't involved in the debate, but he was there, and he was visible.

He's always been willing to take a stand. Back when we all had nuclear arms hanging over our heads, he was willing to go public in support of the abolition of nuclear weapons. I'm now chairman of a statewide group called People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, and he was the first to volunteer that his name be used up front.

There's no question I had my little obstacle to overcome in Houston [when he was arrested for soliciting prostitution in 1990]. Coach Smith was the second person to call me, and he said, "We're all human. I know you're a great man. Just deal with it as a man."

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