Legendary Coach and Former Trojan Dean Smith Passes Away

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Former University of North Carolina head coach and Topeka High graduate Dean Smith has passed away at the age of 83.

“Coach Dean Smith passed away peacefully the evening of February 7 at his home in Chapel Hill, and surrounded by his wife and five children,” the Smith family said in a statement. “We are grateful for all the thoughts and prayers, and appreciate the continued respect for our privacy as arrangements are made available to the public. Thank you.”

He was born in Emporia and graduated from Topeka High in 1949 before attending the University of Kansas and was on the 1952 national championship team.

Smith coached the Tar Heels for 36 seasons (1961-97) and amassed a record of 879-254.  He retired with the most wins by a Division I men’s basketball head coach.  He led the Tar Heels to a national championship in 1982 and 1993 and 11 Final Fours.  He also coached the United States to a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Games.

Some of the prominent players that he coached at North Carolina include Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo, Billy Cunningham, and Vince Carter.

Smith has been inducted into a number of Hall of Fames including the prestigious Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.  He is also a member of the the FIBA Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

“It’s such a great loss for North Carolina– our state, the University, of course the Tar Heel basketball program, but really the entire basketball world,” said Roy Williams, current North Carolina head coach and former assistant under Smith for 10 years.  “We lost one of our greatest ambassadors for college basketball for the way in which a program should be run. We lost a man of the highest integrity who did so many things off the court ot help make the world a better place to live in.”

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, also a Topeka native and former Jayhawk, turned to Twitter to express his condolences.

“It’s a sad day for basketball we lost an all time great coach, teacher, role model, innovator, & just a great human being in Dean Smith,” Turgeon said.  “As a Kansan & Jayhawk I’ve always admired Dean Smith. He had a huge impact on me & my life through mentoring Larry Brown & Roy Williams.

“Thank you Coach Smith for showing us how it should be done.”


President Barack Obama released a statement on the passing of Smith.

“Last night, America lost not just a coaching legend but a gentleman and a citizen. When he retired, Dean Smith had won more games than any other college basketball coach in history. He went to 11 Final Fours, won two national titles, and reared a generation of players who went on to even better things elsewhere, including a young man named Michael Jordan–and all of us from Chicago are thankful for that.

“But more importantly, Coach Smith showed us something that I’ve seen again and again on the court–that basketball can tell us a lot more about who you are than a jumpshot alone ever could. He graduated more than 96 percent of his players and taught his teams to point to the teammate who passed them the ball after a basket. He pushed forward the Civil Rights movement, recruiting the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helping to integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill.  And in his final years, Coach Smith showed us how to fight an illness with courage and dignity.  For all of that, I couldn’t have been prouder to honor Coach Smith with Medal of Freedom in 2013.

“Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Linnea, to his family, and to his fans all across North Carolina and the country.”


University of Miami head coach Jim Larranaga wore a light blue shirt and tie in memory of Smith during Sunday’s win against Clemson. Larranaga has been hearing stories about Smith since he was in high school in Queens, N.Y. and opposed Smith’s North Carolina teams when he was an assistant at Virginia in the 80s.

“The guy was a genius,” Larranaga said.  “One of the great innovators in the game.  I was at Virginia for seven years (1979-86) and it was very hard for me because I was a fan of Dean Smith and North Carolina and yet we wanted to beat them so badly. When I became a head coach I thought so much of the Carolina system I called Roy Williams, who was then at Kansas, and asked if I come out and study their films and I went back and instituted a lot of the Carolina system at Bowling Green and there we used their offense, we used their defenses. The only thing we didn’t do was get the McDonald’s All-Americans that they had so we had to make adjustments to our personnel and we only do a few things like they do now.

“He was very good friends with my high school coach (Jack Curran) and when my high school coach would drive me home, he’d tell me stories about Dean Smith and the Carolina program and he would just rave about them.  Now he felt very close to Coach Smith because his mentor was Frank McGuire and he was the one who hired and brought Dean Smith to the University of North Carolina in the 50s. They won the national championship and their point guard Tommy Kearns is from my high school so I heard all of the stories about Tommy Kearns and Frank McGuire and then I’d hear all of the stories about Dean Smith and how we did things at Molloy (High School) was a reflection of how Coach Smith was coaching at North Carolina, we did a lot of that stuff.

“The one thing that I remember my high school coach saying that absolutely blew me away and I actually tried it for awhile, but it just tells you what an incredible man he was. My high school coach Jack Curran told me that Dean Smith wrote a Christmas card to everybody that he knew–like all of his former players, former managers, friends in the business.  And I thought to myself that he can’t possibly write that many notes. He must have someone else do it. Sure enough, Christmas time comes and my high school coach calls me into the office, ‘Remember I told you that Coach Smith writes everybody, here’s a Christmas card from him with a nice short note.’ And I read it and thought, ‘Holy Christmas.’ And he’s doing that for what, thousands of people? And someone told me that he used to do it on the airplane on their charter flights and he’d go sit in the back by himself. I think he must have started in October.”

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Owner of TopekaHoops who has over 10 years of experience as a sports journalist covering high school, college, and professional basketball and other sports. E-mail me at: topekahoops@gmail.com

1 Comments to “Legendary Coach and Former Trojan Dean Smith Passes Away”

  1. Just a couple of notes to add…

    * Smith was born in Emporia in 1931 and stayed there until moving to Topeka in 1947 and graduating from Topeka High in 1949.

    * During his time in Topeka, he lived in a house on SW Oakley Avenue, but I do not have the exact address.

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