CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Former University of North Carolina head men’s basketball coach Dean Smith died Saturday evening in Chapel Hill. He was 83 years old.
“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.”
Smith was the head coach of the Tar Heels from 1961 to 1997, retiring as the winningest coach in college basketball. He led the Tar Heels to national championships in 1982 and 1993, to 13 ACC Tournament titles, 11 Final Fours, and an NIT championship, and directed the United States Olympic Team to a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Games.
ESPN’s SportsCentury program selected Smith as one of the seven greatest coaches of the 20th Century with Red Auerbach, Bear Bryant, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, John McGraw and John Wooden.
In 36 seasons at UNC, Smith’s teams had a record of 879-254. He set the record for winning more games than any Division I men’s coach in history, surpassing Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp with his 877th victory over Colorado in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. He finished his career by leading UNC to the Final Four in four of his final seven seasons.
Statement from Chancellor Carol L. Folt:
“Our Carolina community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dean Smith. Coach Smith was an extraordinary man who cared deeply about people. Known worldwide as a legendary basketball coach, our University, the Chapel Hill community, and the countless students, faculty, staff and people across North Carolina and beyond will remember him as a great teacher and remarkable pioneer in promoting equality and civil rights. For Coach Smith, his players, coaches and staff were family. He was a trusted mentor whose care for his players went beyond the basketball court and continued after they left Carolina. He will be remembered as a great American and true Tar Heel.”
Statement from UNC Coach Roy Williams:
“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. 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 to help make the world a better place to live in.
"He set the standard for loyalty and concern for every one of his players, not just the games won or lost.
"He was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people. His concern for people will be the legacy I will remember most.
"He was a mentor to so many people; he was my mentor. He gave me a chance but, more importantly, he shared with me his knowledge, which is the greatest gift you can give someone.
"I’m 64 years old and everything I do with our basketball program and the way I deal with the University is driven by my desire to make Coach Smith proud. When I came back to Carolina, the driving force was to make him proud and I still think that today.
"I’d like to say on behalf of all our players and coaches, past and present, that Dean Smith was the perfect picture of what a college basketball coach should have been. We love him and we will miss him.”
Statement by Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University and USA National Team Men’s Basketball Head Coach:
“I am incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Coach Dean Smith. We have lost a man who cannot be replaced. He was one of a kind and the sport of basketball lost one of its true pillars. Dean possessed one of the greatest basketball minds, and was a magnificent teacher and tactician. While building an elite program at North Carolina, he was clearly ahead of his time in dealing with social issues. However, his greatest gift was his unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man. That was easy for him to do because he was a great man himself. All of his players benefited greatly from his basketball teachings, but even more from his ability to help mold men of integrity, honor and purpose. Those teachings, specifically, will live forever in those he touched. We offer our deepest sympathies – and gratitude for sharing his incredible life with us for so long -- to Linnea, his children and the entire North Carolina family.”
Statement for Dr. Lowry Caudill, Chair, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees:
“As the Carolina family grieves the magnitude of Coach Dean Smith’s loss, we can take comfort in considering the profound positive impact his words and deeds had across North Carolina and our nation. Coach Smith was always so much more than a brilliant basketball strategist. He was a father figure to his players, a loyal friend to his associates, a compassionate humanitarian who championed equality, and a strong advocate for the importance of education. He cared about others more than himself. He will forever be remembered as a giant in the history of our great University. We are grateful to his wife, Linnea, and his family for sharing him with all of us for so many years.”
Statement from Senator Thom Tillis:
“Today, the state of North Carolina sadly lost one of its most influential figures, Dean Smith, who leaves behind an incredible legacy. Coach Smith's leadership as the head coach of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill basketball team was legendary, and his role as a teacher and mentor will continue to make a profound impact on many lives for years to come.”