The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons from a Life in Coaching


For forty years, Dean Smith coached the University of North Carolina basketball team with unsurpassed success. Now, in The Carolina Way, he explains his coaching philosophy and shows readers how to apply it to the leadership and team-building challenges they face in their own lives. In his wry, sensible, wise way, Coach Smith takes us through every aspect of his program, illustrating his insights with vivid stories. Accompanying each of Coach Smith’s major points is a “Player Perspective” from a former North ...

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For forty years, Dean Smith coached the University of North Carolina basketball team with unsurpassed success. Now, in The Carolina Way, he explains his coaching philosophy and shows readers how to apply it to the leadership and team-building challenges they face in their own lives. In his wry, sensible, wise way, Coach Smith takes us through every aspect of his program, illustrating his insights with vivid stories. Accompanying each of Coach Smith’s major points is a “Player Perspective” from a former North Carolina basketball star and an in-depth “Business Perspective” from Gerald D. Bell, a world-renowned leadership consultant and a professor at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The keystones of Coach Smith’s coaching philosophy are widely applicable and centrally relevant to building successful teams of any kind.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Coach taught me the game....He's like a second father to me." —Michael Jordan

"Dean Smith epitomizes what a coach can be-teacher, counselor, mentor, example, friend." —Bill Bradley

"He's a better coach of basketball than anyone else." —John Wooden

"To say that much of what I learned as a player from Dean Smith is directly applicable to the business community would be an understatement. Everything I learned during my stay at North Carolina has helped me be a better manager. To this day I rely on principles taught on and off the basketball court by Dean Smith to help me be more effective. Honesty, integrity, discipline, practice, and training certainly are the cornerstones to build from. If you care for your employees the way Coach Smith cared for us, success is a natural byproduct." —Mitch Kupchak, General Manager, Los Angeles Lakers

"There were a few truly great college coaches in twentieth-century America, and Dean Smith is one of those. In my mind, Coach Smith represents everything good about intercollegiate athletics. Call it what you want: the Carolina Way, the Smith Way, the Right Way—it’s about the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Dean Smith is much more than a great coach. He is a great leader, a man of conviction, integrity, and toughness. If you’re in a leadership position or aspire to one, The Carolina Way is a must read." —Lloyd H. Carr, Head Football Coach, the University of Michigan

"Dean Smith is one of the greatest coaches of all time and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read of the leadership principles that contributed to his success. The Carolina Way also includes terrific vignettes from his former players, further illustrating Dean’s powerful impact on their lives and how he was able to encourage his players to perform at their personal best." —Congressman Tom Osborne, former Head Football Coach, the University of Nebraska

"The Carolina Way provides an invaluable primer on good leadership techniques and, if the ‘proof is in the pudding,’ then there is no doubt that Dean Smith’s way works. My com pany and I had the benefit of hiring a number of Dean’s players from Phil Ford to Pete Budko. All of them were winners—ambitious, energetic, loyal team players. He never sent us a bad one." —Hugh L. McColl Jr., Chairman of the Board and CEO (retired), The Bank of America

"I have had the great privilege of sharing a fair portion of my life with William Friday, the president of the University of North Carolina, during much of the Dean Smith era. As a result, I have learned what a blessing Dean Smith was to the integrity of basketball in a collegiate setting. I would highly recommend The Carolina Way to anyone in pursuit of excellence with integrity." —Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., President Emeritus, the University of Notre Dame

Library Journal
Using Smith's approach to playing basketball, Bell's management applications, and Kilgo's presentation of player perspectives on their experiences at North Carolina under basketball coach Smith, this audiobook shows the real working-world application of Smith's coaching theory and practice. It proves that the common experience at Carolina indeed created a basketball "family" among coaches and players and shows the extraordinary humanity of Smith himself. Smith crafted a system that won four NCAA national championships, winning 75 percent of their games while graduating 96 percent of their basketball scholar athletes. The solid tips in this program concerning careful staff recruiting and the creation of the proper workplace atmosphere should allow managers to form and nurture a working team as effective as the Carolina "family." Straightforward, practical, and thought-provoking; a sports book that will make ordinary managers into Smith fans. Very highly recommended for sports management collections.-Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143034643
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/25/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 134,155
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.39 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerald D. Bell has master’s degrees from the University of Colorado and Yale and a doctorate from Yale. He has taught at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School for more than thirty years and has headed his Bell Leadership Institute since 1972. His leadership-training sessions have been attended by approximately 500,000 managers in more than 4,700 organizations from more than 85 countries

John Kilgo is an award-winning newspaper columnist, living in Davidson, North Carolina.

Roy Williams is the current head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina.

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Read an Excerpt

While we didn’t have a system at North Carolina, we certainly had a philosophy. We believed in it strongly and didn’t stray very far from it. It pretty much stayed the same from my first year as head coach. It was our mission statement, our strategic plan, our entire approach in a nutshell: Play hard, play smart, play together.

Hard meant with effort, determination and courage; smart meant with good execution and poise, treating each possession as if it were the only one in the game; together meant playing unselfishly, trusting your teammates and doing everything possible not to let them down.

That was our philosophy: We believed that if we kept our focus on those tenets, success would follow. Our North Carolina players seldom heard me or my assistants talk about winning. Winning would be the by-product of the process. There could be no shortcuts.

Making winning the ultimate goal usually isn’t good teaching. Tom Osborne, the great former football coach of the University of Nebraska, said that making winning the goal can actually get in the way of winning. I agree. So many things happened in games that were beyond our control—the talent and experience of the teams, bad calls by officials, injuries, bad luck.

By sticking to our philosophy, we asked realistic things from our players. A player could play hard. He could play unselfishly and do things to help his teammates succeed. He could play intelligently. Those were all things we could control, and we measured our success by how we did in those areas.

When we put these elements together, the players had fun, which was one of my goals as their coach. I wanted our players to enjoy the experience of playing basketball for North Carolina. Each player on our team knew he was important. They all did a terrific job of sharing the ball, which also made the game enjoyable for more players. They won and lost as a team.

Of course, it is easier to talk about playing hard, playing smart, and playing together than it is to do all three. It begins by recruiting unselfish players who subscribe to the philosophy of team over individual. I once taught a summer physical education class at the Air Force Academy and we had one young man who shot every time he touched the ball. Exasperated from watching him, I pulled his four teammates off the court. He asked who would throw the ball inbounds to him. “You understand that it takes at least one more player,” I said to him.

Play Hard: Maybe a player wasn’t the fastest, the tallest, or the most athletic person on the court. In the course of any given game, that was out of his control. But each player could control the effort with which he played. “Never let anyone play harder than you,” I told them. “That is part of the game you can control.” If another team played harder than we did, we had no excuse for it. None. We worked on it in every practice. If a player didn’t give maximum effort, we dealt with it right then. We stopped practice and had the entire team run sprints because of the offending player. We played a style of basketball that was physically exhausting and made it impossible for a player to go full throttle for forty minutes. When he got tired, he flashed the tired signal (a raised fist) and we substituted for him. He could put himself back in the game once rested. We didn’t want tired players on the court, because they usually tried to rest on defense. That wouldn’t work in our plan. Therefore, we watched closely in practice and in games to make sure players played hard. If they slacked up, it was important to catch them and get them out of the game, or if it occurred in practice, to have the entire team run.

Play Smart: We taught and drilled until we made the things we wanted to see become habits. The only way to have a smart team is to have one that is fundamentally sound. We didn’t skimp on fundamentals. We worked on them hard in practice and repeated them until they were down cold. We didn’t introduce something and then move away from it before we nailed it.  If we practiced well and learned, we could play smart. It was another thing we could control.

Play Together: One of the first things I did at the beginning of preseason practice was to spell out for our players the importance of team play. Basketball is a game that counts on togetherness. I pointed out that seldom, if ever, did the nation’s leading scorer play on a ranked team. He certainly didn’t play on a championship team. I made them understand that our plan would fall apart if they didn’t take care of one another: set screens, play team defense, box out, pass to the open man. One man who failed to do his job unselfishly could undermine the efforts of the four other players on the court.

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Table of Contents

Preface by Roy Williams

Part One: The Foundations

1. First Principles
2. Play Hard; Play Together; Play Smart
3. Winning
4. Losing

Part Two: Playing Hard

5. Caring
6. Practicing
7. Recruiting the Players
8. Honesty
9. Breaking Bad Habits
10. Fun, Fatigue, and the Long Season

Part Three: Playing Together

11. Teamwork
12. Defining and Understanding Roles
13. Why Unselfishness Works
14. Team-Building Techniques

Part Four: Playing Smart

15. Every man on the Team Is Important
16. Taking Care of the Little Things
17. One-on-One Meetings
18. Goals and Expectations
19. Building Confidence
20. Earning the Support of the Bigger Team
21. Discipline Must Be Fair
22. Continuous Learning

Part Five: Lessons Learned

23. Don't Dwell on the Past
24. Don't Fear Change
25. The Olympics: When Winning Was the Goal
26. Hopes for the Future


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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    In this book, humble and dedicated leader Dean Smith and Carolin

    In this book, humble and dedicated leader Dean Smith and Carolina Basketball serve as guidance for living, working, and leading. 36 years of coaching wisdom are summarized with help from UNC graduates to show the values of cooperation and hard work. Chapters summarize playing hard and fair as a team, showing respect for each other and collegiate work. Developing teamwork was a multiyear project that has been successful for UNC hoops and influenced generations of Carolinians and people everywhere. Thanks Coach!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2004

    The Carolina Way

    There is one particularly unique thing about The Carolina Way and that is the player's perspectives written in the book are by and large from guys who had little or no experience in pro ball, yet have gone on to successes in other fields. Dean Smith obviously prepared his players to achieve in all walks of life, not just basketball. The book gives insight as to how his values influenced his program and how that, in turn, helped develop so many great players and such quality people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2004

    Winning THROUGH Integrity

    Dean Smith and Jerry Bell have crafted a fine primer on leadership, integrity and achievement with The Carolina Way. Both men inherently understand that true success is measured by the process, not the result. Dean Smith is the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history, yet little attention is paid to winning in the book. He focuses instead on the goals that were set, the hard work that went in to accomplishing them, and the bonds forged along the way. The wins were a by-product of the process. His care for his players and their growth, his unshakable value system, and his sense of responsibity to a larger picture than just sports, resonates throughout the book. Jerry Bell does a terrific job juxtaposing how the Carolina Way works in any organization. If more companies were more committed to building their people first-and-foremost, then bigger bottomlines would result. In a period where scandal in leadership runs rampant in every section of our newspaper, The Carolina Way serves as a kind reminder that good guys can finish first.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2008

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