Coach Dean Smith was a legendary basketball coach at University of North Carolina for 36 years. He grew up in a small Kansas town and was the son of Baptist school teachers. When he retired in 1997 he had 879 victories, which was the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball record at the time. For all his accomplishments on the court, he had equal triumphs in working for and developing his players for success off the court. Smith was a champion for racial integration recruiting the first black athlete, Charlie Scott, to the University of North Carolina. Once a fan of an opposing team called Scott a racist name, and Coach Smith got so upset that he had to be held back from going after the fan. Scott commented that, “It’s one of the very few times I ever saw Coach Smith become that angry and volatile. It surprised me, but it also made me proud that he was my coach.”
Smith cared about his players’ lives and not just about basketball. His players graduated with an astonishing 96 percent graduation rate, which is much higher than the university’s overall graduation rate! It could be, in part, due to his one firm rule that he told his assistant: If any of his players ever needed to talk to him, his assistant should interrupt whatever he is doing, no matter how important it seemed. He also kept in contact with his players after graduation and would send them letters of encouragement when things were going bad if they were struggling with something.
An editorial once had four lessons that can be learned from Dean Smith’s life. They are:
1. It’s not about you — even when it is.
2. Family isn’t just your relatives.
3. Stand up for what you believe in.
4. Small graces loom large.
You will notice that none of these are about basketball. The first is about humility, the second loyalty, the third about courage, and the fourth about kindness. Dean Smith once said, “You should never be proud of doing what’s right. You should just do what’s right.” It was the way he tried to live his life and it is clearly based on his Christian faith. It was not fame that Coach Smith sought out but development of men that would carry them beyond the basketball court into excellence in all areas of life.
Great coaches develop players that are better when they leave the program then when they enter. It was the same with Jesus. When Jesus left earth, He never really left the disciples. He could always be reached by prayer and the disciples received the Holy Spirit as well. It is the same gift and power that all Christians receive. We have the Holy Spirit within us to guide and direct our ways. The disciples were emboldened when they received the Holy Spirit and Christians are as well. Max Lucado, in his book Come Thirsty, states:
“Lord, I come thirsty. I come to drink, to receive. I receive your work on the cross and in your resurrection. My sins are pardoned, and my death is defeated. I receive your energy. Empowered by your Holy Spirit, I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength. I receive your lordship. I belong to you. Nothing comes to me that hasn’t passed through you. And I receive your love. Nothing can separate me from your love.”
As Christians we are all on Jesus’ team. He cares for each one of us and wants to stay in contact with us. Jesus desires nothing less than a 100 percent graduation rate. Our graduation day is when our time on earth is done and our place in heaven awaits us. We can be confident that Jesus has a firm rule: that no matter what time it is or what we have done, we can always come to Him and ask for advice, encouragement, or whatever help might be needed.
Strachan, M. (2015). “15 inspiring stories about dean smith that prove he was so much more than just ‘michael jordan’s coach’.” Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/09/dean-smith-stories_n_6646750.html
Posnanski, J. “Dean smith: A life well-lived.” Retrieved from http://sportsworld.nbcsports.com/remembering-dean-smith-north-carolina-coach/
Lucado, M. (2004). Come Thirsty. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Stohlmann, M. (2016). The world's greatest coach. Seattle, WA: CreateSpace.
Christian, author, and professor of mathematics education.