On February 28, 1931, legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith is born in Emporia, Kansas. Smith retired in 1997 with 879 wins, making him the most successful coach in college basketball history.
A talented high school and college athlete, Smith attended the University of Kansas on an academic scholarship. He was a member of the Jayhawks team that won the 1952 national basketball championship under famed coach Forrest “Phog” Allen. 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 (UNC) at Chapel Hill and three years later became the head coach.
Under Smith, the Tar Heels won two national championship titles, in 1982 and 1993, and made it to the Final Four playoffs 11 times. During his 36 years of heading up UNC’s basketball program, he coached such future NBA stars as Michael Jordan, who referred to Smith as a second father, James Worthy, Rick Fox, Vince Carter and Rasheed Wallace. Smith was known as an innovative coach who popularized such tactics as the four corners defense, the fatigue signal and the foul-line huddle. His teams won at least 20 games for 27 consecutive seasons and finished among the top three teams in the A.C.C. for 33 years running. Just as impressively, more than 97% of his players left UNC with a degree.
At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Smith coached Team USA to a gold medal. In 1986, UNC opened a massive new arena, the Dean Smith Center, also known as the Dean Dome. Smith announced his retirement in October 1997. With 879 wins under his belt, he was the most successful men’s college basketball coach in history. Smith’s record was broken when University of Indiana coach Bobby Knight won his 880th game on January 1, 2007.
Smith died on February 7, 2015, in Chapel Hill. He was 83 years old.