Dean Smith remembers the boos, the criticism, the mistakes, He remembers being hanged in effigy and wondering if he should get out of coaching. He remembers, but he doesn't like to be reminded.
For the past several years he has discouraged those who would chronicle his career partly because he guards his privacy zealously, partly because he has no desire to rehash the past.
Now, on an overcast February afternoon, Smith climbed behind the wheel for a drive to Charlotte, three hours down I-85, for a game against St. Joseph's.He was not looking forward to the trip, not with three hours of questioning with no phones or secretaries to interrupt.
"How," he asked, "can I avoid doing this kind of thing in the future? . . . I know, get out of coaching."
He pulled into traffic and lit a cigarette. Except during games, Smith is almost never without a cigarette. He puffs deeply, as if the nicotine were life-giving oxygen. As he pulled onto the highway and set the cruise control, Smith began talking, reluctantly, about those first years as a coach.
The program Smith inherited from Frank McGuire was not without some problems. Four years after winning a national championship, the Tar Heels were coming off probation. They were limited to a 17-game schedule and only allowed to recruit in the state by the NCAA.
Larry Brown was a player. So was Donnie Walsh. But it was not a good team. And it was McGuire's team, used to his methods, his personality.
"It was a real adjustment for all of us," Brown said. "Frank had all this charisma. He just kind of told us to go get 'em. Dean was completely the opposite. He was always teaching. Every minute of every practice was planned. He seemed conscious of every move we made. He was everywhere at once. But when it came time to play he just told us to play as hard as we could."
Smith remembers his first game vividly, an 80-46 victory. "I was so organized, I had thought of every little thing," he said. "Then we got ready for the opening tap and the referee turned to me and said, 'Dean, where's the ball?' I had been so wrapped up in everything else I forgot to tell someone to bring the basketball out of the locker room.I had to send our head manager, Elliot Murnick (the name rolls off his tongue without hesitatioin), back to get it."
Brown remembers something else about that game. "He had told us to go all out and if we got tired, give him a clenched fist as the tired sign. Walsh and I kept giving him the sign and each time he would shake his fist back and say, 'Yeah, yeah, way to go, keep it up.'"
"Absolutely true," Smith said. "I was so excited I forgot my own tired signal."
That giddy night was anything but a harbinger of things to come. The Tar Heels were 8-9 that first year and although they improved to 15-6 the next season, many of the victories were escape acts. The next two seasons were 12-12 and 15-9. Then came 1965. Bobby Lewis was a sophomore, Billy Cunningham a senior. Great things were expected.
The Tar Heels started well, winning six of eight, including a victory over South Carolina and McGuire. Then came losses to Alabama, Florida and Maryland. On Jan. 6, 1965, Wake Forest drubbed Carolina, 107-85, to make the record 6-6.
It was along, quiet ride back to Chapel Hill. When the bus pulled up to Woollen Gym, there, hanging from a tree, was a burning effigy of Smith. Cunningham charged off the bus and tore it down. He was furious.
"It had been building for a while," Cunningham said. "All the papers were on Dean, every day, all the time. Vicious stuff. It upset all of us because even then, before he was a big winner, his players were very loyal to him. It made me mad. I think it made us all mad."
Even now, Smith is uncomfortable discussing the incident.
"Of course, I remember it," he said. "You don't forget a thing like that, ever. But I don't really like to talk aobut it. There are some things I could say about the way I feel about it, but a lot of them are religious. I do remember Cunningham tearing it down, though."
He also remembers giving the best pep talk of his life three days later and then watching the Tar Heels go out and beat a superior Duke team. They won nine of their last 12.
During that season, for the first and last time in his life, Smith questioned whether he was in the right profession. The constant criticism, the burning-effigy incident affected him deeply.
His self-doubts, he says now, were answered by books. Then, as now, he was a voracious reader, his favorite subject being theology. Kierkegaard. Trueblood. Buber. Smith has read them, studied them. But in 1965, he was profoundly affected by a book sent him by his sister, Catherine Marshall's "Beyond Our Selves." The key chapter for Smith was the one titled "The Power of Helplessness."
Worry about only what you can control, Marshall wrote. Smith took that to heart and can still cite from the chapter. "I stopped worrying about all the external things that had affected me in the past," he said. "That whole period changed my attitude toward my vocation."
He was pulling hard on the cigarette as he spoke. The voice lacked its usual urgency. "I'm uncomfortable talking about this. It's personal to me. I really don't enjoy talking about it."
But why this almost obsessive craving for privacy? The man lives in a house at the end of a dead end that can't be seen from the road because of all the trees around it.
"I don't consider myself that much of a private person." he said. "I don't like it, though, when I'm cast as some kind of an expert on subjects that I'm not expert on. I'm just another human being with beliefs. People might listen to me because I'm a coach and I don't think that's right.
"I could say a lot of things. If I ever really started talking about how I feel about Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. I'd be swamped with letters because I really have difficulty dealing with them. They upset me.
"I want my friends to be my friends because of me, not because of what I believe or because I'm a coach. I'm not one for sitting in a restaurant and holding court and talking basketball.
"When I'm not with my team or with other coaches, I really don't want to talk basketball. I do it for a living all day long. I don't need to talk about it with my friends."
If he ever did talk publicly about some of his nonbasketball thinking, Smith might shock some of his constituents. The man is a closet liberal. He signed antiwar petitions during the Vietnam conflict. He won't talk about how he feels about the Moral Majority because he knows once he starts talking about how uncomfortable it makes him, he might have trouble stopping. He advised Charles Waddell, a Carolina football/basketball star, not to get into football coaching because he thinks blacks aren't given a fair shake. He has trouble justifying the $30 million recreation center (read basketball arena) Carolina is building.
Smith survived the wrenching 1965 season, finishing with a 15-9 record. In 1966 Carolina was 16-11. But quality players were beginning to arrive in Chapel Hill: Larry Miller, Rusty Clark, Dick Grubar, Bill Bunting, Chrarlie Scott.
Between 1967 and 1969, Carolina won three straight ACC titles and went to the final four each time.The Tar Heels made the final in 1968 but were destroyed by Lew Alcindor and UCLA. The 1970 team dropped off to 18-9.
Then came 1971. Carolina was picked to finish fourth or fifth in the ACC. Instead the team won the regular season and lost the tournament final by a point to South Carolina on a fluke play. From there, they won the NIT. The Smith legend was launched.
"Until then, even when he won, a lot of people said it was just the talent," Fogler said. "I think even some of the players believed they were the reason for the success and he was just kind of along for the ride.
"But in '71 when they won when no one thought they could, that's when people started realizing that if they did things his way, they were better. From that point on, no one questioned his word."
Smith remembers his decision to try the four corners in the 1968 championship game. And he remembers feeling the players were not completely sure he was making the right move. Now, he knows that if he told his players to play standing on their heads, they would do it.
"Eddie (Fogler) keeps telling me that I've mellowed, that I let the players get away with little things in practice, that I'm not as tough as I once was," Smith said. "Maybe that's true, maybe it's a part of getting older, maturing. I'm not sure."
"He doesn't have to be as tough now," Fogler said. "Before he had won all the championships he might have to shout or say something twice to get it done. Now, when he says something to a player, it gets done. Immediately."
When Smith blows his whistle at practice, every player drops the ball at his feet and runs full speed to the center jump circle, stopping with his feet on the circle.
Throughout the practice the only sounds other than bouncing basketballs and bodies are Smith's voice and Smith's whistle. He talks almost nonstop, instructing, correcting and sometimes scolding.Occasionally he will stop play to quiz a player on his role in a certain offense or defense. There is no room for daydreaming.
Each practice has an "emphasis," a specific area of concentration. If anyone on the team makes a mistakes in that area, everyone runs a sprint. Throughout the practice the managers keep charts, marking down the good and the bad.
Taking a charge, setting up a steal, boxing out so someone else can get a rebound, result in bonus points used by players to get out of sprints. Bad things produce minus points and more sprints. Graduating seniors who have leftover bonus points can "will" them to players still in the program.
"Order, when you think of Dean you think of order," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson, Smith's assistant on the 1976 Olympic team. "He not only knows basketball but he knows just how to communicate what he knows. He's articulate about it."
How organized is Carolina? Watch the Tar Heels closely during a timeout. They form a perfect circle around Smith, players in the game seated in front of him, other players standing behind him, managers standing behind the bench. When the timeout is over, one manager goes down the row and wipes every seat off before anyone sits down.
"Saves us a lot on our cleaning bill," Smith said.
When Carolina travels, a plane is usually chartered. When the Tar Heels play Maryland they do not stay in the Quality Inn or the Holiday Inn in College Park. They stay at the Watergate Hotel.
Every move is planned. During warmups before a game, one of the managers charts the layup line. A miss means a sprint in practice the next day. "That's always been one of my pet peeves with the pros," Smith said. "The way they warm up would be like Jack Nicklaus going out to practice trick shots before a tournament or Roger Staubach throwing passes behind his back before a game.
"The disciplined person in society is the truly free person. We give our players discipline to make them free."
Carolina players are always neat, well-groomed. Several years ago Smith asked a student reporter who got on a bus without a tie if he owned one "Because if you don't," he said, "I'll buy you one."
That organization, that attention to the smallest detail and that ability to control help explain Carolina'a success, year after year. In a league where every other team has finished last or tied for last at least once in the last four seasons, the Tar Heels have been first or second 15 years in a row.
The Smith system is a product of the Smith background. The organized, disciplined childhood. The military training. Some say Smith's players are too disciplined. Frank Barrows of The Charlotte Observer, a man who has covered Smith teams for 12 years: "The two most exciting guards of the 1970s in college basketball were Phil Ford and Earvin Johnson -- Magic Johnson. No way would Carolina have a player called Magic Ford."
Magic Johnson led Michigan State to a national chamionship in 1979. Which brings this story to its but line.
But what about the national championship?
Only Smith, Adolph Rupp and John Wooden have been to the final four at least five times. Wooden went 11 times and won 10 titles. Rupp went five times and won four. Smith is zero for five.
That statistic is one Smith had Assistant Coach Bill Guthride research.
He is that conscious of the one void in his otherwise superb record.
"Of course 'd like to win a national championship," he said. "But I think it's something that's more important to outsiders, those who judge you rather than to you yourself.
"Getting to the final four is harder than winning the national championship. There are 30 coaches who have won national titles, three who have been to the final four five times. Which mountain is harder to climb, the one that 30 people have climbed or the one three people have climbed?
Still, Smith must be haunted by the 1977 national title game against Marquette. The Tar Heels were a genuine Cinderella team that season because they made it to the final even though they lost Tommy LaGarde for the season and Phil Ford and Walter Davis played hurt.
"Healthy, we were the best team that year," Smith said. "But we weren't healthy from February on."
But midway through the second half, they were even with Marquette after trailing by 12. The pattern was the same. Carolina had been behind against Purdue, behind against Notre Dame and behind against Nevada-Las Vegas. and won each time.
Now, with the score tied and Marquette looking tired, Smith ordered the four corners. "We called it the Goose Gossage that year because it was our stopper at the end," Smith said. "We had won with it four straight games in the tournament. I wanted to to get their big men away from the basket, so I spread it out."
With Mike O'Koren, who had become the team's big scorer, waiting at the scorer's table to come back in, the Tar Heel held the ball. "I remember saying to Coach, 'maybe a timeout?'" Fogler said. "But why, our guys knew what to do."
Bruce Buckley, O'Koren's replacement, finally saw what he thought was an opening and went to the hoop. Marquetee's Bo Ellis cut him off and blocked the shot. "I thought then that it was goaltending," Smith said. "But it wasn't. It was a good call."
Marquette scored on its next possession and the Tar Heels never got even again. Four years later, walk up to anyone on campus and say: "Should he have gone to the corners?" and he or she will know exactly what game, what sitution you're talking about.
"I only think about it when someone brings it up," Smith said. "But I've never been a believer in playing the what-if game about the past or the future.Marquette won the game."
His tone of voice is sending a messge: don't press me on this. Some things Smith doesn't like to talk about. In basketball it is the national championship. Outside basketball it is his failed first marriage.
"I think," said his sister, Joan Ewing, "that was the most difficult time in his life without question. To him, divorce was a very serious thing. He didn't divorce lightly and it was a long, drawn out, painful thing."
Smith and his wife Anne divorced in 1973 after a long separation. Smith remarried in 1976 to a doctor he met on an airplane when he noticed her reading, "The Gospel According to Peanuts." His three children by his first marriage are all Carolina graduates. He and his current wife Linnea have two girls, a 2-year-old, the other born last week.
But that is personal. Irrelevant, Smith would say. Because it doesn't concern the team.
"If I had known years ago that coaching would involve the travel, the interview time and all the other things that go with it, I might not have become a coach," he said. "I stay in it because when I wake up every morning, I still look forward to going to work. I still enjoy seeing a group start on Oct. 15 with one goal in mind, trying to become a cohesive group, trying to reach certain goals. I still enjoy that."
That may be the clue. This is a man who grew up with three main elements in his life: coaching, teaching and religion. That has never changed. No one ever taught him about adulation or about criticism.
Certainly he enjoys winning far more than losing. But his one joy comes in the teaching and it comes in those taut, tingling monments at the end of the tenest of games. Smith lives for those moments.
"You look at him with five seconds left and the score tied and you look for the tension," O'Koren said. "You look for the hands to shake, the voice to quaver. Never. He's always in complete control, always knows just what he wants, just what we need to do. He never hesitates."
When the game is over, the moment has passed for him. If Carolina ever wins the national championship, Smith will undoubtedly do the same as he did the night of that crushing loss to Marquette.He will go off somewhere with his family and closest friends and seek the solitude of his closed circle.
"Winning it would certainly make him happy," Mitch Kupchak said. "He's worked for it. But it wouldn't change him. I can't see anything ever changing him. He's one of those people who is always positive. He never says, 'If you don't.' He always says, 'When you do.' He never thinks in terms of failure."
John Thompson: "Dean never told me he helped get blacks served in Chapel Hill restaurants because I'm sure he considers that part of being a human being. He doesn't take being a good person for granted. He doesn't take anything for granted."
"he works at being a good person. He works at everything."
"I wouldn't trade the program we've had the last 15 years with anyone, including UCLA," Smith said. "Winning a national championship can be a matter of one inch or one play. Someday, I hope, we'll get that inch or that play. To win it all, you have to be very good and very lucky. So far we've been very good."