Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The world of sports lost a legend late Saturday evening. Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died peacefully, surrounded by his family, the university said in a statement early Sunday morning. Smith was 83 years old.
And while Smith may be gone, his legacy continues to live on. It's a legacy perhaps bigger and brighter than any other in the history of college basketball, or at any level for that matter. Not only did Smith have monumental success in the coaching ranks, but he churned out some of the best players and coaches the game has ever seen.
Smith began coaching at North Carolina in 1961, after serving as an assistant for several other programs, including at Kansas and Air Force, before joining North Carolina's staff in 1958 under Frank McGuire. The 30-year-old Smith was offered the head coaching job of the Tar Heels when McGuire left to coach at the NBA level in '61.
Smith was at the helm of the UNC program until 1997, and compiled an overall record of 879-254. He retired as Division I's all-time winningest coach, having since been surpassed by Bob Knight, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Smith took the record away from former Kentucky great Adolph Rupp.
The only losing season Smith's Tar Heels endured was during his first year as the man in charge. North Carolina went 8-9 that year, but it didn't take long for his program to break out. In 1966-67, Smith's team went 26-6 and began a run of three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titles and trips to the Final Four.
North Carolina won national championships under Smith in 1982 and in 1993. The famed coach's resume also includes 13 ACC Tournament titles, 11 Final Four appearances, an NIT championship, and a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Games in which Smith directed the United States Olympic Team. The Tar Heels finished as national runner-ups in the 1977 and 1981 national championship games, losing to Marquette in '77 and to Knight's Indiana squad in '81.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, and in 2006 Smith was made a member of the inaugural class of the National College Basketball Hall of Fame, along with James Naismith, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and John Wooden. He also belongs to the FIBA Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
And while his accomplishments on the court are extremely strong, it hardly compares to the numerous people that were influenced, coached or mentored by Smith throughout his career.
It starts right now with UNC's current coach, Roy Williams, who spent 10 years as an assistant to Smith at North Carolina. Williams, who went off to coach at Kansas before Smith lured him back to the Tar Heel State in the early 2000s, has won two national championships since his return to UNC.
"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 Williams in a statement. "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."
Also products of Smith and his system are Larry Brown, who currently coaches at SMU, George Karl and Eddie Fogler. Brown won a national championship while coaching at Kansas in 1988, and then won an NBA title with the 2004 Detroit Pistons. Karl spent plenty of time on the bench for the NBA's Seattle Supersonics, Milwaukee Bucks and, most recently, the Denver Nuggets. Fogler played under Smith at UNC in the 1960s, and then went on to coach at Wichita State, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, where he retired following the 2000-01 season.
Smith was able to recruit and bring up some of the best players the game of basketball has ever seen, most notably perhaps the greatest ever in Michael Jordan. Jordan spent three seasons at North Carolina, averaging 17.7 ppg for the Tar Heels before making the leap up to the professional level. Jordan said in a statement that Smith was more than just a coach to him.
"Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith," Jordan said. "He was more than a coach - he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life."
In 1967, Smith recruited Charlie Scott, who became the first black scholarship athlete in the state of North Carolina. Smith also coached players such as James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Vince Carter, and Jerry Stackhouse, among countless others.
Krzyzewski was an assistant coach at Indiana, then became the head coach for his alma mater at Army for five years before he moved down Tobacco Road to take the main job at Duke in 1980.
He and Smith became rivals, with Krzyzewski winning back-to-back national championships with the Blue Devils directly before Smith won his last championship with the Tar Heels. Krzyzewski said in a statement that Smith had a unique ability to teach what it takes to become a good man, and that basketball is a better sport because of Smith's presence in it.
"We have lost a man who cannot be replaced," Krzyzewski said. "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."
Every game day, when Williams and his Tar Heels take the court at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, they will be reminded of perhaps the greatest legacy and one of the greatest men the sport of basketball has ever known.