The Years Are Taking Their Toll On Dean Smith

For us as NC State fans, for most of our lives, Dean Smith was the Man We Hated The Most, and the guy who caused us more grief than just about anyone.  But the years have taken their toll on the former coach, and he is now slipping fast into one of the worst kinds of old age – the kind where Alzheimer’s takes away the mind, leaving little behind.  Even for an old enemy, that’s sad to watch.

Fayetteville Observer: UNC Family Rallies Round Smith

People close to the coach say his famous memory is slipping. On some days he doesn’t recognize people he has known for years.

“That’s really the painful thing to absorb when you’re around him,” said Woody Durham, the radio voice of the Tar Heels since 1971. “Because his mind for so many years, not only in basketball but in remembering names and faces from everyday life, was like a steel trap. Now to see him losing that capability is truly sad.”

Those near the UNC program say Smith has good days and bad days. On the good days, he is his cheerful, unassuming self, friendly and engaging and surprising people with his memory of little details about their lives.

But on the bad days, they say, Smith has great difficulty even remembering people he has worked with and around for years.

- Dan Wiederer

When Dean Smith inevitably passes, an era of the ACC passes with him.  Smith, ever the coach blessed with great players, was a dominant conference coach when the ACC had real parity, in a time when it was a matter of fact that on any night any ACC team could beat any other.  His battles with Lefty Driesell, Norm Sloan, Terry Holland and others were legendary, as they should be.  While UNC came out on top far too often for their rival’s tastes, the games themselves were rarely blowouts.  Even in the halcyon days of Thompson and Towe at NC State — a duo that led the Wolfpack to six straight wins over the hated Tar Heels — the games themselves were usually nailbiting affairs not decided until the last.  Beating them – the team that never said die, that never seemed to run out of miracles – was the sweetest experience an ACC fan could have.  That alone serves as a testament to the kind of Coach that Dean Smith once was.  Love or hate him, it’s impossible to say that Dean Smith was not a great coach.

Coach Smith often struggled when it came time to win the national championship until he claimed his first of two national titles in 1982 after Georgetown’s Fred Brown inexplicably passed the ball to a UNC player in the waning moments of a tense national title game.   In 1993, he was again the benefactor when Michigan’s Chris Webber called timeout in the closing moments of that Title Game.  Problem was Michigan was out of timeouts and the resulting technical foul assessed Webber put Carolina up for good.  Some may say that those titles were “given” to him, but the fact is, any close title game is decided by a tip here, a missed shot there or a break somewhere in between.  It is irrelevant when they happen, though all too often we recall the ones that come at the very end of a tough battle.   Smith won two titles, and he and his players deserved both of them.

One place he did not struggle was in setting the record was in 1976 when he coached the US Olympic Men’s team to a Gold Medal in Montreal.  In 1972, the Soviet Team had beaten the highly favored American team on a controversial play that some insist to this day was rigged.  The American team, hungry for revenge, stormed back to take what was rightfully theirs, and during that Olympiad, even the most die-hard red-clad Wolfpack fan, the kind who might swear he’d not slow his car down if he saw Smith crossing the street, was right behind him pulling for Dean Smith and his American team.

Truth is, while it almost natural for a Wolfpacker may automatically think something negative when Dean Smith’s name comes up in a conversation, one should also keep in mind that it’s just sports, and that Coach Smith has friends and family that love him and care a great deal for him, and for them, watching him go away in slow motion is an incredibly difficult and painful thing to watch.  For Dean himself, it must be incredibly frustrating and painful to not know the faces whom he could once recall without a second’s hesitation, for time to have passed him by and for the quiet that surrounds a man accustomed to the din of arenas filled with friends or foes.  As a Christian, my thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Smith, to his family and even to his former players and colleagues.  While I may never have cheered for the Tar Heel blue to win much of anything while Dean Smith ran their bench, I do feel for his situation.  Be well, Coach.

While a Wolfpacker may automatically think something negative when his name comes up in a conversation, one should also keep in mind that it’s just sports, and that Coach Smith has friends and family that love him and care a great deal for him, and for them watching him go away in slow motion is an incredibly difficult and painful thing to watch.  For Dean himself, it must be incredibly frustrating and painful to not know the faces whom he could once recall without a second’s hesitation, for time to have passed him by and for the quiet that surrounds a man accustomed to the din of arenas filled with friends or foes.  As a Christian, my thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Smith, to his family and even to his former players and colleagues.  I would hope and expect they would do the same for me.
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34 Responses to The Years Are Taking Their Toll On Dean Smith

  1. Clarksa 07/08/2010 at 12:01 PM #

    Great article…it is a shame anyone and their family has to endure that torture.

  2. PackManSJP 07/08/2010 at 12:20 PM #

    Very, very good article. I have never cheered for his teams or really agreed with him politically, Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease to watch to any loved one.

    My grandfather is 78 and has had this for about 5 years. It has been sad and distressful watching him deteriorate. It is really scarry to see how quickly the disease takes over.

    Many prayers for Dean Smith and his family.

  3. coppertop 07/08/2010 at 12:57 PM #

    thank you for this piece. It is sometimes hard to remember that it is just sports when rivalry’s are so tense. Every fan of ACC basketball should wish the best for coach smith. He was quite the adversary but does not mean anyone should wish ill to him and his family as they struggle through this

  4. jwrenn29 07/08/2010 at 1:01 PM #

    Good job. The same thought process is why I can like Roy Williams, but yet never pull for him on the court.

    It is sad to hear about Dean, and my prayers for him and his family.

  5. packof81 07/08/2010 at 1:10 PM #

    This is a good article. Dean Smith was one of the greatest coaches in college BBall. He quite literally changed the game.

  6. WolftownVA81 07/08/2010 at 1:16 PM #

    Thanks Alpha. A nice reminder that while we can be rabid Wolfpack fans, we also need to keep things in proper perspective.

  7. IMFletcherWolf 07/08/2010 at 1:24 PM #

    I grew up hating Dean Smith, like many State fans did. As the years passed and his time away as coach grew, my disdain for him has faded.

    Life is absolutely more important than basketball and I truly hate to hear this about Coach Smith. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. I wish he and his family the best in this fight.

  8. ncsu_kappa 07/08/2010 at 1:29 PM #

    Yeah I hate the tar heels but I have nothing but love and respect for Dean Smith. Especially ever since he left the sidelines. While Roy is coaching, I hope he gets migraines (just bad enough to impact the outcomes of games, but nothing long lasting haha), but when the game is over I wish him the best.

    Just shot up a prayer for Dean and his family.

  9. VaWolf82 07/08/2010 at 1:33 PM #

    “Father Time humbles all of us at some point,” Stackhouse said. “You just hate to see somebody like him who was so sharp mentally and so in tune with everything around him go through this.”

    This story was linked at the yahoo sports blog on NCAAB. This quote was specifically highlighted in that blog entry.

  10. Sweet jumper 07/08/2010 at 2:04 PM #

    Great post Alpha. I never rooted for a Dean-coached team, but I truly respect him and his program. I would not wish this fate on anyone. My thoughts and prayers are with Coach Smith and his family.

  11. TX_Wolfpack 07/08/2010 at 2:09 PM #

    Nice post Alpha. My Grandmother was a huge UNC fan, and adored Dean Smith. My Uncle would take her to the Fan Days and Dean would always remember her. Sadly she passed away from Alzheimer’s several years ago, so it is particularly sad to hear the same about Coach Smith. Thoughts and prayers to Coach and his family.

  12. PackMan97 07/08/2010 at 2:19 PM #

    Even though I was two years old at the time of the ’76 Olympics, I was cheering for the Russians.

  13. Sweet jumper 07/08/2010 at 2:54 PM #

    I must correct my above post. The only time I cheered for a Dean-coached team was during the ’76 Olympics, but I justified that by the fact that Kenny Carr was on that team.

  14. LarryWorsley 07/08/2010 at 6:07 PM #

    Well said Alpha.

  15. imawolf 07/08/2010 at 6:40 PM #

    Tremendous reflection. I nod my approval and my heartfelt concern for Coach Smith and his loved ones…….My Aunt Edna Tart from Newton Grove dearly loved this man, as I dearly loved her….. Many thanks for the wonderful memories……

  16. ChemPack82 07/08/2010 at 6:58 PM #

    Great article, Alpha. Well said….

    My memories of Coach Smith are bitterweet. Wolfpack victories over a Chapel Hill team coached by Dean Smith were especially sweet. Can’t say that I every admired him while he was on the sidelines, especially how he manipulated four corners, but over time I have come to admire the significant impact he made to ACC Basketball. I am deeply saddened by his decline. I wish him and his family all the best.

  17. wufpup76 07/08/2010 at 7:07 PM #

    “As a Christian, my thoughts and prayers go out to Coach Smith, to his family and even to his former players and colleagues. While I may never have cheered for the Tar Heel blue to win much of anything while Dean Smith ran their bench, I do feel for his situation. Be well, Coach.”

    Amen.

    Could not have been said better.

    Thanks Alpha.

  18. blpack 07/08/2010 at 7:30 PM #

    Great article, Alpha.

  19. tuckerdorm1983 07/08/2010 at 7:32 PM #

    Believe it or not Dean came to my house and we sat in my living room and talked for about an hour two different times. (His daughter was trying to buy my house so he came along). While his wife and daughter went around the house Dean and I sat and talked. I made it clear that I was a die hard Pack fan(ABC). All in all I found him to be a nice and friendly guy. He did not act pretentious (like most of his fans). We discussed the game in 1983 where the holes came to Reynolds and we beat them. MJ fouled out and Lowe stole the ball and drove down the court and made a between the legs pass to Bailey for a slam over Sam Perkins to end the game. I remembered MJ fouled out on a charge call made by ref Lenny Wertz. Dean said “that was the worst call he had ever seen in all his years”. I told him I was on the front row for that game and it clearly was a charge no doubt. Anyway. Dean, God Bless. I still am ABC through and through and will always be but Dean is a nice guy.

  20. 61Packer 07/08/2010 at 8:05 PM #

    One of the few times I ever openly cheered for a Dean Smith-UNC team was the ’93 finals, when the Heels beat Michigan’s arrogant Fab Five team. Wouldn’t you know it- my son is now a student at UM and my dau is on her way to UNC this fall.

    But the news about Dean is awful. I always admired him and always will. I have a family member who’s dealing with this disease now, and I know what the Smith family is going through. I feel truly sorry for them.

  21. RedRiver 07/08/2010 at 8:51 PM #

    Above all else, Dean Smith was a competitor, and to see him on the losing side of an uneven competition is just tragic. Heartfelt prayers for a man who gave it 100% every time.

  22. tractor57 07/08/2010 at 9:35 PM #

    One cannot ignore the impact coach Smith had on the ACC and on college basketball. Like many I grew up a Tarheel fan but learned the error of my ways. Few things are better than seeing the Pack beat the Heels and that is as it should be.

    I’m saddened by the news – that is no way for anyone to end their existence here on earth. Prayers for strength and peace for him and his family during this trial.

  23. coyotejoe 07/08/2010 at 9:47 PM #

    I am not sure of the year, but it was Gugliotta’s senior year I think. We beat Carolina in Reynolds, went on a ten game losing streak, then beat Carolina in the Dean Dome. In the post-game interview, I remember Dean saying, “If they played us every game, they would have a winning record.” You have to like his comments, even if they were from a somewhat obtuse angle!

    Take care, Dean. Sure do miss the old days!

  24. McCallum 07/08/2010 at 10:23 PM #

    Nice piece by Alpha but beware of extending that hand to those folks to much………you gotta know that THEY ARE UP THERE and YOU ARE DOWN HERE unc attitude. We are all about to hear how grateful we should be that this man came around our way and graced our state, they will not ask you about how you should be grateful…………..they will DEMAND that you be grateful.

    My thought is that Coach K will not get any nice piece written about him when his time comes.

    Other thoughts on the matter also cause me to wonder if El Deano was not slipping long ago especially when he referred to FSU’s Kirk Luchman as “Mr Choke”.

    Now was he slipping then or did that carolina KLASS show itself?

    McCallum

  25. rky 07/08/2010 at 11:34 PM #

    Still don’t like EweNC.

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