What they’re saying about the death of a legend

Dean Smith, courtesy UNC Sports Information.
Dean Smith, courtesy UNC Sports Information.

Dean Smith, the legendary coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels from 1961 to 1997, passed away Saturday night. Here is what they’re saying.

The Smith family
“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. 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.”

Peter Gammons, former DTH sports editor and long-time journalist
“Many of us owe a life of thanks to Dean Smith. ‘You can be really good,’ he implored, pushing me to a journalistic life. Many coaches care about their own legacies. Dean Smith cared about every person he knew.”

John Swofford, ACC Commissioner
“Sometimes the word legend is used with too little thought. In this instance, it almost seems inadequate. He was basketball royalty, and we have lost one of the greats in Dean Smith.”

Jay Bilas, ESPN commentator and former Duke player
“Dean Smith was one of the finest coaches in the history of American sport. His championship record, innovation, teaching and influence in the lives and careers of players and coaches are unsurpassed in college basketball. Yet the profound sadness we all feel at his passing Saturday at the age of 83 speaks to something far more substantial. Dean Smith, the coach, was the embodiment of true coaching and competitive greatness. Dean Smith, the man, was far greater, and far more influential.”

Jeff Eisenberg, Yahoo Sports
“College basketball lost one of its icons Saturday night… Any lingering bitterness among Smith’s rivals has faded in recent years as his health has declined. Dementia began to ravage his famously steely memory almost a decade ago. In recent years, the man who once could recall specific plays from games he coached in decades earlier could no longer recognize some of his most decorated players or most trusted assistant coaches.”

Michael Jordan, Hall of Fame basketball player
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. 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. My heart goes out to [Smith’s wife] Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”

Caulton Tudor, long-time sports writer
“Dean did more to advance the team concept than any previous coach in any sport. He was totally devoted to his players and to Carolina.”

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke coach
“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… 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.”

John Calipari, Kentucky coach
“Dean Smith was the most innovative and player-loved coach of his time.”

Bob Valvano
I know it surprised some people my brother Jim at NCSt and Dean at UNC got along well, but they did, and I was always proud of that. Legend.

Carol Folt, UNC Chancellor
“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.”

Roy Williams, UNC coach
“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.”

Dave DeWitt, WUNC radio
“In the coming days, old rivals and players and friends will share stories and memories. Countless commentators and Carolina fans will obsess over the details of Smith’s career and debate his legacy.

“But in an interview conducted in 2008, Smith didn’t believe his greatest successes were the 879 victories or the 1976 Gold Medal or the national championships, he chose instead to focus on the extended family he now leaves behind:

“‘I never really thought about a legacy, except the nice thing I’m probably most pleased with, the real high graduation rate: 96 percent. But the fact they all stick together. They call themselves the Carolina Family. I didn’t plan that. They’re really good people. I think they all like me now. They might not have liked me when I played. I don’t know whether that’s a legacy, but I’m very proud of all of ‘em.’”

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