Thursday was an emotional day for me and many others. Along with over one hundred other UNC lettermen, friends and family, I attended the funeral of my coach, mentor and friend, Dean Smith.
After having listened to the remembrances of his former pastor, Bob Seymour, Roy Williams, the present head coach at UNC, and two of his children, here is what I’ll always remember from this moving, joyful, celebrative time.
- Coach Smith really loved his family. With humor and love, his kids shared stories about their beloved family dog, promises on their birthdays to take them to whatever restaurant they desired (only then to drive them to a different restaurant and pretend he’d forgotten), to a time he jokingly encouraged his son Scott to dance with then-Duke coach Bill Foster’s daughter “to encourage UNC/Duke relations.” Every Dad could only wish our kids would speak as lovingly, warmly and fondly about us at our funerals.
- He really loved his church and pastor. He attended his church, in a wheelchair, within three weeks before he died. His first decision upon arriving in Chapel Hill decades ago was to find a church. He loved to talk Bible and theology with his pastor. They did so regularly, Coach Smith desiring to stay away from anything about basketball (though Bob Seymour said sometimes he wanted to talk to Coach Smith about basketball!).
- He was a man of deep faith. He arranged his own funeral service! The order of service was ordered by Coach Smith. The prelude to the postlude, the antiphonal readings, the hymns, to the speakers, Coach Smith oversee those selections. It not only shows his meticulous attention to detail, more importantly, it shows his faith. “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Amazing Grace” were two hymns sung by the worshiping congregation. Matthew 25:31-46 was the text. He wanted to make sure all attending clearly understood that personal faith must care for the poor. His life expressed this commitment to the poor.
- Everyone present had their lives deeply touched and enriched by Coach Smith. Roy Williams, as he concluded his message, asked us all of us to point to heaven as a gesture to thank Coach Smith for all he meant to us. He was the one who demanded we perform this gesture whenever we scored a basket, pointing to our teammate who gave us the pass. He always wanted recognition to go to the one who sacrificed, the one who “gave up” the ball so another could score and succeed. Now it was our time to thank him who gave up so much of himself so each one of us could score in life.
On our seats, every worshiper was given a small pamphlet that expressed Coach Smith’s family’s appreciation for our presence. In it, there was this quote from Coach Smith and his book, A Coach’s Life (Chapter 11): “It is not enough for me to know we are all loved, forgiven and accepted as we are. Our Creator also provided the spirit in each person to guide us if we choose. For all of this we should be grateful. I believe the Christian faith is motivated by gratitude, which we can repay with ethical action to others. With the Spirit’s guidance, we will be at peace in this world.”
When we love others, serving them, especially the poor and disenfranchised, we are fulfilling the heart of Dean E. Smith.
May his legacy continue to expand and influence on the court. May it expand and influence in even greater intensity off it.
May we imitate Coach Smith, as he imitated his Lord, Jesus Christ.