Tributes to Dean Smith reverberated through CBS Sports Radio airwaves Monday, as former players and coaches shared their thoughts and feelings on the legendary North Carolina coach who passed away this past weekend at the age of 83.
Smith won two national championships at UNC, an Olympic gold medal at the 1976 Games in Montreal and retired as the winningest men’s basketball coach in Division I history.
“It’s an honor to speak about Coach Smith and his teachings, his legacy,” former UNC player and head coach Matt Doherty said on Tiki and Tierney. “It is inevitable to most people that know him and know the condition he was in – if any of us have elderly parents who were really just existing – it was time. And we know he’s in a better place right now because he was such a strong Christian.”
In his final years, Smith battled a condition that robbed him of his memory. Doherty said he hadn’t had a meaningful conversation with Smith in quite some time.
“Really, it was about five years ago,” he said. “In the last probably 3+ years, there wasn’t much interaction. People that would visit with them, he didn’t really recognize you. About five years ago when I last really saw him and had a meaningful conversation, I had to introduce myself to him. He didn’t recognize me at first. It was sad. It was sad to see.”
Doherty, 52, played for UNC from 1980 to 1984. He was a member of the 1982 team that won the national championship, this after a 19-year-old by the name of Michael Jordan hit a game-winning jumper to beat Georgetown.
“We had a reunion a couple years ago – a smaller one with the ’81-82 team,” Doherty said. “We were hoping he was going to be able to show, and he didn’t. So it was sad. It (was) time. He’s in a better place. And I’m sure his family is sad but relieved that he’s moved on.”
Smith had a number of admirable traits – among them, humility.
“I think that he really did not like the attention, which is kind of interesting,” Doherty said. “For a guy who was such a public figure, who was the best at what he did in a state that was passionate about basketball, in a country that was passionate about college basketball, he never liked the attention.”
Doherty shared an anecdote to illustrate the point.
“We won the national championship in ’82,” he said, “and we’re all coming back on a plane and we had a big reception. Twenty-five thousand people greeted us at the football stadium. There were fans along the highway. He wasn’t with us. He decided to travel by himself, maybe with his wife. Maybe he went out recruiting. But he didn’t like the attention, and I think that was a big part of the program. He didn’t like players to bring attention to themselves, and that’s why he instilled things like pointing to the passer, giving credit for guys who set the screen – the little things that make up successful teams. You have to have stars. You have to have talent. But five guys working as one was really powerful, and he instilled that in us from day one.”