Head Basketball Coach
1961 - 1997
Unlike most great empires, Dean Smith's never had to endure a period of decay. Smith resurrected the North Carolina men's basketball team in the 1960s and maintained a program that for three decades was as respected and emulated as any in the sport.
Smith, 83, led the Tar Heels to 879 wins and two NCAA national championships in a 36-year head coaching career that spanned from 1961 to 1997. At the time of his retirement following the 1997 Final Four, Smith held the record for most coaching wins by a Division I men's basketball coach.
Off the court, Smith is as distinguished as they come. Last November, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House. A champion of civil rights, human rights and academic achievement in addition to being one of the premier basketball coaches in American sports history, Smith joined former UCLA coach John Wooden as just the second college men's basketball coach to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
While at North Carolina, Smith helped promote desegregation by recruiting the university's first African American scholarship basketball player, Charles Scott, and pushing for equal treatment for African Americans by local businesses. He saw to it that his players were as successful in the classroom as they were on the court, having seen nearly 97% of them leave UNC with a degree. Previously, Smith has also received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage in 1998, the National Good Sportsmanship Award in 2011 and became the first recipient of the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, given by the University of North Carolina Committee on Teaching Awards for "a broader range of teaching beyond the classroom."
In his youth, Smith was a talented high school and college athlete, choosing to attend the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship. He was a member of the Jayhawks team that won the 1952 national basketball championship. After graduation, Smith served in the U.S. Air Force and later coached the Air Force baseball and golf teams. In 1958, he was hired as an assistant basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and three years later became the head coach.