Although I am a Wolfpacker I very much appreciate what Dean Smith did for the sport. He was a credit to UNC, the ACC and basketball generally. He ran a clean program and did it right. I cannot remember even a hint of scandal in Dean's personal or professional life.
Dean came aboard in the wake of a point shaving scandal involving primarily UNC, and was seen as a fill in until it all blew over. However coming from KU and having played under the tutelage of Phog Allen (who had been coached by Dr. James Naismith himself) Dean had other ideas. He brought in guys like Billy Cunningham, Bob Lewis, Dog Moe, Larry Brown, Larry Miller and Charlie Scott. Starting in 1967 Carolina became a national power going to the Final Four three years in a row. Unfortunately for the Tar Heel faithful they lost them all, which would become a theme in Chapel Hill, that being CAROLINA CHOKES!
I don't think that was the case, at least in the early years. In '68 they ran into arguably the best college basketball team of all time in the Lew Alcindor led UCLA Bruins and lost by 23. Nobody could have done better. But with the talent that Dean Smith had (they made the tournament in 1967-68-69-72-75-76-77-78-79-80-81-82-83-84-85-86-87-88-89-90-91-92-93-94-95-96-97) they won just two National Championships in 11 Final Four appearances.
For me, what Dean Smith was, the essence of Dean so to speak, is best illustrated by the 1977 Final Four. That year Carolina had a depleted, walking wounded squad with All American Phil Ford with an elbow injury, All ACC Tommy LaGarde benched due to a bum knee and Walter Davis with a broken shooting hand. Carolina had to start two freshman Rich Yonokor (aka Big Bird) and Mike O'Koren (his coming out party as it turned out). This beat up and battered bunch whipped a killer two loss UNLV squad that I swear played like the LA Lakers! The Heels then go to the final against Al McGuire's Marquette Warriors.
Keep in mind in BOTH these games Carolina had gone behind early by double digits. They had fought back against the Running Rebels and won the game by a point late. Against Marquette they were behind by twelve at the half but came out smoking and tied the game about five minutes into the second half. They then traded baskets a couple of minutes and Smith lost his nerve. He went to a stall, the "Four Corners" stall with 13 minutes on the clock. Carolina threw away their momentum, Marquette took a two minute blow, regained their composure and won going away. Sheer idiocy!
I look at it this way, there has never been a finer teacher of basketball fundamentals than Dean Smith. He along with guys like Dave Gavitt and Bobby Knight trained a generation of European coaches. He won Olympic Gold medals, conference championships, regional championships and national championships. He minded the store during some rough times in ACC b-ball history. But even though his was a winning, well run program, a model for every school in the country, it has to be said that with the talent and resources he possessed he should have won seven or eight championships. I just don't think the big games were all that important to him, and that was, I guess you could say his strength and his weakness.
Smith was the enemy but he was an honorable enemy. I appreciate him, what he accomplished, the players he trained and the characters he built... and I celebrate his legacy.
RIP Dean. Thanks for the memories.