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"He was so different from Coach McGuire," Brown says. "Until you knew Coach Smith well, he could give you a very uncomfortable feeling. Why, he could give you a compliment and still make you wonder. Coach McGuire would get mad and call me a Jew bastard, and it rolled off my back. He called everybody something. But Coach Smith would just say, 'Larry, I think you could have fought over that screen,' and it would hurt me much more. It would go through me like a knife."
As a rookie head coach, Smith was too unyielding and overreacted to players' innocent indiscretions, and at the blackboard Smith was just as rigid, force-feeding his myriad defenses and the incontrovertible math of the shuffle offense. There'd be some mumbling from the back," says Charlie Shaffer, who played on Smith's first three teams. "There'd be some laughing. There were times he had to stop and say, 'Hey, remember, I'm coaching this team.' "
Recruiting, however, was something else. That was not exactly Smith's long "Suit, and his distance and diffidence usually left him at a disadvantage against the hail-fellow raconteurs who plied blue-chip parlors with grace and aplomb and silver tongues.
Now, of course, it's a breeze. Smith comes advertised as an athletic demigod, and prospects genuflect when he deigns to enter their humble abodes. North Carolina doesn't recruit now; uncle taps. Back then it was altogether different. "Now, I know, the kids go for Dean Smith," says Bobby Lewis, who rejected 'Kentucky and other notable powers for Carolina in 1963. "Then, you went to Carolina for itself and what you thought "you could find there." The lovely campus, matching coeds, the McGuire memories—embodied best by Cunningham, personable Billy C, the Brooklyn boy—and Ken Rosemond, Smith's down-home assistant, were all more responsible for attracting what early talent did play for Smith than Smith himself.
Rosemond remembers well his visits to Larry Miller's home on Wood Street in Catasauqua, Pa. Day after day he would spring for a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and sit with Larry's father, guzzling it down, never letting on that he hated beer, talking about any number of things, especially, whenever he could fit it in casually, about why Larry might choose Carolina over Duke. For his part, Smith was so awkward then, so distant, that even after Lewis and Miller did come to Carolina, even as they were becoming the fabled L & M Boys, when Rosemond left to become head coach at Georgia, both Lewis and Miller independently "made overtures" to Rosemond to transfer with him. It was that close. Even in 1966-67, the season Carolina finally began to prevail, when it was on the way to the Final Four, a friend of Smith's remembers cringing one night as one of the team's top players banged on a motel wall and screamed "I hate you, I hate you" over and over at the top of his lungs. "He wanted Dean to hear. He wanted him to know."
Art Heyman, the Duke All-America in Smith's first two seasons, was amazed when, years later, he visited North Carolina and found out how revered Smith had become. "Dean Smith?" Heyman said. "Why, he was the biggest joke around."
The year after Miller enrolled. Smith picked up three very good local players—Rusty Clark, Joe Brown and Bill Bunting. At last, a decade later, Frank McGuire's Carolina legacy was complete: The state had begun to develop its own talent. Now, Smith gets his pick of the litter virtually every year. It's instructive that three other North Carolina colleges—Duke, North Carolina State and North Carolina at Charlotte—have made the Final Four in the last decade, but their coaches soon fled the state, unable to compete with Smith.
Moreover, beginning with the recruitment of Charlie Scott in 1966, Smith was in the Dixie vanguard of bringing in blacks. In the black community the word got around that in 1960, years before Smith could bring blacks to Chapel Hill and use them to his advantage, he had gone out of his way, as we shall see, to do something personally valorous, something dear to black people.
And so, as a consequence of all these factors, the Tar Heels are inexorable. They have made the Final Four seven times since '67. They have had 12 straight 20-win seasons, and 15 of 16. And, most impressive of all, over the last 16 years they have finished no worse than second in the ACC, the nation's most competitive conference. There are just never any off-years. Over this time the two men who have most resembled Smith in the steadiness of their accomplishments are Earl Weaver and Tom Landry, but they did it in the pros, supported by whole computerized organizations. Carolina is still uncle-powered.
Steve Previs, UNC '72, who many think is probably the most intelligent player Smith has ever had and, more important, does the best Dean Smith imitation, perhaps sums up his old coach most precisely: "He's a mathematician, and, in effect, he's simply written a program for winning basketball games." And then Previs smiles and adds, "Or, even better, Coach Smith is a Japanese car."