A Coach's Life: My Forty Years in College Basketballby Dean Smith, John Kilgo, Sally Jenkins
For almost forty years, Dean Smith coached the University of North Carolina men's basketball program with unsurpassed success- on the court
Legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith tells the full story of his fabled career, and shares the life lessons taught and learned over forty years of unparalleled success as a coach and mentor.
For almost forty years, Dean Smith coached the University of North Carolina men's basketball program with unsurpassed success- on the court and in shaping young men's lives. In his long-awaited memoir, he reflects on the great games, teams, players, strategies, and rivalries that defined his career, and explains the philosophy that guided him. There's a lot more to life than basketball- though some may beg to differ- but there's a lot more to basketball than basketball, and this is a book about basketball filled with wisdom about life. Dean Smith insisted that the fundamentals of good basketball were the fundamentals of character- passion, discipline, focus, selflessness, and responsibility- and he strove to unite his teams in pursuit of those values.
To read this book is to understand why Dean Smith changed the lives of the players he coached, from Michael Jordan, who calls him his second father and who never played a single NBA game without wearing a pair of UNC basketball shorts under his uniform, to the last man on the bench of his least talented team. We all wish we had a coach like Dean Smith in our lives, and now we will have that chance.
mentor, example, friend.”—Bill Bradley
“Coach taught me the game. . . . He’s like a second father to me.”
“Dean Smith is not merely a basketball coach of historic accomplishments. He is also a man of uncommon integrity and decency. His life story will be heartening to the many Americans who have watched him shape two generations of young athletes to reach their full potential as men.”
—Senator John McCain
“Dean Smith is a better teacher of basketball than anyone else.”
—John Wooden, former coach, UCLA
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Read an Excerpt
On the day I took over as head coach at North Carolina, the chances of my finishing out my career in that job were about a hundred to one. Most Division 1 basketball coaches are fired somewhere along the line. Some become athletic directors; others became TV commentators or enter a new vocation. Only a lucky few retire as coaches.
One of the first things I did was institute the "tired signal." When a player was tired, I told him he could pull himself from the game. All he had to do was hold up a clenched fist. The trade-off was that he could put himself back in when he was ready. Looking back on it, I realize that often when I did something differently or innovatively as a head coach, I did it as a reaction to other coaches I had known—because I disagreed with them. Much as I respected Phog Allen, I wanted to rest my own players more than he had rested his. I knew we were in good physical condition, but our pressure defense and constant movement off the ball made it difficult not to be tired. Also, there were just a few games on TV, thus no TV time-outs then. When fatigue sets in, execution breaks down. I decided I would rather have a fresh reserve on the floor than a tired starter, a philosophy I stuck to for the next thirty-six years and for which I would be criticized at times. But it would also win us a few games. I felt the best judge of whether a player was tired was the player himself. Of course, if we coaches saw someone not hustling, we would take him out of the game for several minutes. This surely encouraged a player to take himself out of the game, rather than have the coach make the decision
The "tired signal" was not meant to be used away from basketball. When I walked toward the University Methodist Church for Donnie Moe's wedding, Donnie saw me through the window as he waited for the service to begin. He stepped out the side door and gave me the "tired signal." He wanted out of the game!
On December 2, 1961, we opened our season at home against Virginia, and I was only slightly apprehensive. I was looking forward to the game and felt very little pressure. I was a thirty-year-old whose only head-coaching experience was a dozen games as a player-coach in the armed forces. Before the game, I went to exhaustive lengths to plan everything, down to the last little details. For instance, I planned how our bench would be arranged during time-outs and where subs would sit when they came out of the game.
Finally it was game time. I took my seat on the bench in Woollen Gym, and our players took their places for the tip-off.
An official jogged over to me. "Where's the game ball?" he asked. I had forgotten it.
I sent team manager Elliott Murnick down to the end of the bench to pick out a game ball. Fortunately there was no TV coverage for the game.
Finally the game got under way. We found a good practice ball and the toss went up, and I became caught up in the action. For the first four minutes we were horrible. I took an early time-out, rare for me. I jumped them. "What happened to the new offense? We weren't running anything we had practiced, and we were impatient on offense." After that time-out, our players executed beautifully. I can still remember my pleasure as they created layup after layup. Defensively we were good from the outset. Virginia found it hard to complete a pass, much less find an uncontested shot.
Four or five times in the first half, I noticed players holding up their fists. I thought they were saying, "We've got them, Coach." At one point, Brown gave me a fist. I waved my fist back, as if to say, "Way to go, Larry!"
I had not only forgotten the ball, I had forgotten my own "tired signal."
We went on to beat Virginia, 80-46. But no sooner had we passed one test than another was in store for us. Our next game was at Clemson, and I didn't prepare the team properly for the press offense. We knew it because we had practiced it, but we didn't know it for a game on the road. I would never make that mistake again. From then on we practiced something until it was second nature, so that in the stresses of game situations, especially those encountered on the road, execution came off effortlessly. I hope. We did defeat Clemson in their small gym by 2 even though I did not have us ready to play on the road against a zone press.
I was learning that a head coach never relaxes. In December our only loss was to Indiana, 76-70, but we had only those three games. On January 6, 1962, we traveled to Charlotte to play against Notre Dame, and I was worried. The Fighting Irish were a good team coming off a big win over Illinois, and I respected their coach, Johnny Jordan, who was a friend from my days at the academy. He was such a good friend, in fact, that we had dinner the night before the game, which isn't done much anymore since there is so much tape to watch. Early in the day, Bob Quincy, our sports-information director and a friend, came by my room and said, "What are you so worried about? The line only has Notre Dame favored by six." The last thing I wanted to hear about was the betting odds after all we'd been through. "Don't ever mention a gambling line to me again," I said.
Meet the Author
Dean Smith was born in Emporia, Kansas, in 1931. At age thirty he became head coach of the University of North Carolina, and in his more than thirty-six years there, he established a peerless record—879-254, .776—as the winningest coach in college basketball history. Smith has won numerous coaching awards, including eight ACC Coach of the Year titles, and was named coach of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
John Kilgo is a writer who has known Dean Smith for three decades. He publishes a UNC sports magazine, Carolina Blue, and was the co-host of Smith's TV show for fourteen years. Kilgo lives in Davidson, North Carolina.
Sally Jenkins is the author of Men Will Be Boys and the co-author of Pat Summitt's first book, Reach for the Summit. A veteran sports reporter whose work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, she has worked for The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and Condé Nast's Women's Sports and Fitness.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book is one of the best sports books i have ever read on coaching people. Coach Smith had such an impact on so many people that basketball was his ministry in life. He helped others become great. He unlocked the potentials of many others during his career. In this regard he was a master teacher of life not just basketball. I found i shared Kansas roots and the American Baptist church, and Air Force service with coach Smith as well as a love of the game. He is truly an amazing man and i would love to meet him.
As an American who has played and coached abroad and is currently a Swedish national team coach I found Coach Smith's book impossible to put down. Great insights to his basketball mind but more importantly the perspective he placed upon student-athletes. This book gave me new ideas on how to relate to players and confirmed my belief that if you instill 3 thoughts into your team, play hard, play smart, and play together then your team will ultimately be successful whether you win or lose. I highly recommend this book to all readers, not just coaches or fans.
Buy this book or borrow it from someone!!!!Even if you dont follow College Basketball and have no idea who Dean Smith is. It's fabulous, and gives the reader the hope that maybe the world isnt so bad after all. All we need is more Dean Smiths
I have been a fan of UNC for 10 years. In that time I saw many UNC games, and was lucky enough to seem them in person in my homestate of NJ. So of course I had to buy this book. This book not only re-affirms that Dean Smith is the greatest coach in all of sports history, but he is one of the greatest human beings to walk our planet. (Read the book to understand) Did you know he was the first college basketball coach in the south to allow a black player to play basketball? Or that he was embarrased at the fact of being given the Arthur Asche Award for Courage? And that he says all wins are the players doings and the loses are his fault? Or that he wrote Jalen Rose a letter the day after the '93 championship to congratulate him on a great year and told him that Michigan's loss was by no means his fault? With every page, you as the reader will be more and more amazed at what a rare man Dean Smith is. Many critics say he shouldnt be considered among the best since he only won two national titles. But when you read his overall records, and hear his first hand commentary on how hard it is to win a National Championship, you will understand. As he says 'The best team in the NCAA does not always go on to win the National Title.It depends on who plays well during the tournament, who has healthy players, and a certain amount of luck.' It's unfortunate 'they dont make' more men like Dean Smith, but how fortunate for North Carolina and all of us fans, they did.
Having watched Coach Smith for years, I thought I could write any book on this life as a coach. I'd watched his games both live and via television. I'd seen away games, home games, games in Carmicheal and games in the Dean Dome. However, the book had little to do with basketball. It had everything to do with WHY he coached basketball the way he did and how he lived his life. It was a difficult book to put down. Never have I read a biography or biography-type book like this before. I'd recommend this to every coach in every sport at every level.
Those of us who watched Smith coach over the years always knew that he ran a tight ship and that his teams epitomized the essence of college athletics, but that was about it. This book reveals in great detail what it took to build the greatest program in college basketball, however the most interesting aspects of the book are what it reveals about the man behind the program, Dean Edward Smith. From his childhood to his last season in coaching, Smith lets us in on his life and the hidden world of NCAA basketball at the highest level: the academics, the rivalries, the politics, and the day-to-day workings of the program at UNC. This book, while focusing on Smith and his teams, is really about what it takes to create a working basketball family. This book is enjoyable for both the hardcore basketball fans and those interested in a good old-fashioned teacher-pupil relationship story. Great tid-bits from the early years, updates on literally everyone of his players, and all the anecdotes along the way make this one a great addition to anyone's home library.