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Dean Smith Dies

Dean Smith passes.

Dean Smith passes away
Dean Smith passes away
Will Owens/Getty Images

Dean Smith passed away Saturday night after a long battle with Alzheimer-like  symptoms. With him goes an entire epic of ACC history, to say nothing of the life he had with his two families. His wife and children have the most painful loss obviously, probably made more so by his long decline. His basketball family's loss is also going to be difficult as well.

What Smith created at UNC, beyond just basketball, was unique and a blueprint in many ways. His players came back, year after year, they named their children after him, always they sought his counsel.

As often as not, keeping a close eye on everyone, he sought them out and offered it.

One of his first stars, Larry Brown, said this. We can't remember the exact phrasing but you'll get the drift. Frank (McGuire) could call me a stupid Jew and it didn't sting nearly as much as Dean saying I think you could've done that better, Larry.

When King Rice was arrested, Smith told him that he hoped he understood that now was more important than basketball and that of course he'd be there for him.

We were told this story by a former UNC manager and have never repeated it, but we think that it's okay now. During the early days of the Smith-Krzyzewski rivalry, when a lot of people wanted to run Coach K out of town, UNC was killing Duke in one matchup. The manager said something to Smith like "we're really giving them a beating. Krzyzewski's not that good of a coach."

Smith turned and said "you wait. He's going to be great."

This was during his first three seasons when a lot of Duke fans sure as hell didn't agree.

The most important Smith story was a lot earlier though.

Younger fans, probably even older fans will forget that Smith took over as a very young head coach when UNC was in disgrace after the point shaving scandal of the late '50s. It was also on probation. He was widely expected to fail. The late Art Heyman, an iconic figure at Duke, said Smith was seen as "the biggest joke around."

So it was no easy thing, in the early '60s, for Smith to advocate publicly for desegregation in Chapel Hill. It was an act of moral courage which could have cost him his job, because at that point, he was not the saintly, beloved Tar Heel figure he was to become. He was just Frank McGuire's former assistant who was expected to fail.

Remember, people were still being murdered in America for fighting the Civil Rights movement.

Smith worked as hard and as courageously as any white person in this state to bring about change.

When you talk about someone like this, you have to understand that you must separate the competitive man from the whole man. Competitive Man does unpleasant things when he competes. So you have the "Mr. Choke" story, when Smith applied that to an FSU player he had recruited (he said it on his radio show and we're sure regretted it instantly). So you have him challenging Rick Barnes to hit him during a game.

Duke fans no doubt can find a whole list of these, as can State, Wake Forest and Maryland fans (and everyone else)

At one coaches meeting, when Smith left the room, Lefty Driesell turned to his colleagues and famously said "we gotta get that guy."

Virginia's Terry Holland named his dog Dean because, he said, he whined a lot.

Coach K had a fiery press conference early in his Duke career after a game when Smith pounded the scorer's table and added 20 points to the board, all with no technical. Krzyzewski decried the "double standard."

Yet Competitive Man is only part of a whole man. Years later, after his retirement, former State coach Norm Sloan saw Smith on a golf course. He said he wasn't very happy about some of his own coaching behavior and was hesitant to approach Smith.

When he did, Smith greeted him warmly.

It's true at Duke too - the Coach K you see on the sideline is not the Coach K you see in person. He has a very kind nature which competition doesn't allow people to see.

There are, by the way, Duke people indebted to Smith. Fred Lind told us that Smith really helped him after his basketball career. We think Kenny Dennard said that too. Even Coach K, who has a list of choice comments about Smith the coach, came around later to truly appreciate Smith as a man and friend.

His loss primarily affects his two families and the school he loves, of course, but the rest of us owe him a debt as well.

The ACC started in 1953. The first coaching giants were State's Everett Case, UNC's Frank McGuire and Duke's Vic Bubas, a former Case assistant.

By 1960 McGuire had moved on and Everett Case was dying of cancer. Bubas only coached from 1959-1969. McGuire had an amazing team in 1957, but Smith gets a lot of credit for making the ACC what it became.

Because of Smith, State hired Sloan and later, Jim Valvano. Because of Smith, Maryland hired Driesell. Because of Smith, Duke hired Bill Foster and Mike Krzyzewski.

Everyone wanted to compete with what Smith built at UNC. Memories have faded a bit, but that program was incredibly powerful and durable. You went from Larry Brown to Larry Miller to Charles Scott to Mitch Kupchak to Phil Ford to Mike O' Koren to the Wolfs to James Worthy to Michael Jordan to JR Reid to Jerry Stackhouse. You can fill in the blanks - Dahntay Calabria, Rasheed Wallace, Tom LaGarde and on and on and on.

All of them will be back in Chapel Hill soon for one last chance to reflect on the influence a remarkable man had on their lives. We offer nothing but best wishes and deep condolences to both of his families. We won't see the likes of him again.

We'll close with a joke Jim Valvano used to tell.

He was in a barber's chair after he got to Raleigh and he and the barber were discussing State's 1973-74 team, which lost one game in two years and won the 1974 national championship.

That was a great team, V told the barber, or words to that effect.

Yeah, said the barber. But imagine what Dean could have done with it.