The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Basketball >> Biography
Dean Smith

second winningest college basketball coach

Dean Smith

Dean Edwards Smith was born in Emporia, Kansas, on February 28, 1931. Both of his parents were educators, and his father also coached football, basketball, and track at Emporia High School. His parents moved the family to Topeka in 1946, and he played quarterback, point guard, and catcher at Topeka High School; he earned All-State honors in basketball as a senior. He went on to play reserve guard at the University of Kansas under "Phog" Allen from 1949 to 1953, and to serve as an assistant coach at KU from 1953 to 1954.

Smith initially considered studying medicine, but after graduating in 1953 he decided instead to fulfill his ROTC requirement by enlisting in the Air Force, and he subsequently spent a year in Germany. After returning to the United States he served as an assistant basketball coach at the Air Force Academy, 1957-1958.

In 1958, University of North Carolina head basketball coach Frank McGuire convinced Smith to leave the Air Force Academy and join his coaching staff. McGuire was forced to step down in 1961 when the NCAA placed the Tarheels on probation for rules violations, and Smith was asked to take over as head coach. By the time he retired in 1997, Smith had taken the Tarheels from disgrace to a record 32 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including 13 consecutive Sweet Sixteens, and had amassed a total of 879 wins, making him second only to Bobby Knight on the list of all-time wins by a college basketball coach.

Highlights of Smith's career at the University of North Carolina include 17 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, an NIT Championship (1971), two NCAA Championships (1982, 1993), 11 NCAA Final Four appearances (second most after John Wooden), and 27 consecutive seasons with at least 20 wins. When he integrated the Tarheels basketball team in 1966 by recruiting Charlie Scott he emulated what his father had done at Emporia High School in 1934. His famous Four Corners offense was one of the reasons the NCAA instituted the shot clock. Many of the players he coached went on to become NBA stars, including Vince Carter, Brad Daugherty, and Michael Jordan; Roy Williams and Larry Brown are just two of the many notable coaches who learned the game under Smith.

In addition to his incredible record at the University of North Carolina, Smith was also the head coach of the 1976 U.S. Olympic basketball team that defeated Yugoslavia to win the gold medal at Montreal. He announced his retirement on October 9, 1997. His autobiography, A Coach's Life, was published in 2002.

Dean Smith died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on February 7, 2015.


National Coach of the Year, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1993

Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, 1997

Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement, University of North Carolina, 1998

Honorary Doctorate of Laws, North Carolina, 2007


Ann Cleavinger -- 1955-1973 (divorced) -- three children

Linnea Smith -- 1976-present -- two daughters

See Also

Forrest Clare "Phog" Allen

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Basketball >> Biography

This page was last updated on January 25, 2019.