For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings. As our Carolina family seeks ways to stay connected during these challenging times, board members are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.
“Dean Smith told me, ‘Eddie, you’ll never be rich, but you’ll eat a lot of steak at the pregame meal.’”
Oct. 18, 2014
I used to do a lot of public speaking. As a coach, I spoke to the Gamecocks’ club, this club, that club. I don’t even need my notes.
I spent 19 years at The University of North Carolina. Now, for the young people, it didn’t take me 19 years to get a degree. I got my degree in four years. I was able to then spend 15 years getting an undergraduate degree in basketball from a man named Coach Dean Smith. I played for Coach, with Joe Brown ’69 and Jim Delany ’70. Jim and I entered the University in 1966 together as freshmen. We’ve been great friends for 48 years. It’s been a wonderful relationship. Joe entered in 1965, a year before me, and I haven’t seen Joe very much over the years. This committee has connected me back to him, and honest to God, it’s like we never left. I can still see Joe and his wife, Linda, when they were in school here.
I spent four years here getting that kind of education. I was a math major for my undergrad. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was getting a double major. I was also getting a major in basketball by an incredible coach and human being, Coach Dean Smith. The last 15 years here, I was an assistant coach at The University of North Carolina. I looked at it at that time as getting my Ph.D. At that point, I was sitting in the meetings and was looking at firsthand what else the guy did to put that product on the court. More importantly, what he did to ensure that all the student-athletes, all the players got a great experience, not only on the court, but in the classroom. Making an impact. For me, spending 19 years close to Dean Smith made a huge impact on my life.
I grew up in New York, and I’m still the only person in my family with a college degree. My father would have told you that wasn’t true, that he got a degree in the School of Hard Knocks. That was his degree. Dad was a taxicab driver and owned his own insurance agency for a little while. I came to Chapel Hill, and it was a very, very tough decision to leave home. I think my freshman year, and I think Jim would agree, was special. It was a year of great transformation. I had never been away from home. I was homesick. I left my girlfriend. I used to save my change, and Sunday nights go to the one end of Avery dorm and get on the public telephone for an hour. It was tough. So I came to Chapel Hill, and our freshman coach was Larry Brown ’63. He was a tremendous coach. I actually thought I was here on a track scholarship, as we ran and ran and ran. It was unbelievable.
We had four scholarship players — it was Jim, myself and a pretty good player named Charlie Scott ’70. I kind of thought I was good until I saw Charlie. Also Al Armor ’70 from Illinois (so we had five) and my roommate, Gray Whitehead from Scotland Neck. I’m from Brooklyn. Gerald Tuttle ’69, a roommate of Joe’s, was from London — I thought he was from England — and he was from London, Ky. I thought, “Wow, this is different.” Back then, Chapel Hill was a little Southern town. It was fairly Southern — they played Dixie our freshman year in 1966. Boy, has this place changed. We go to practice, and our freshman team had six or seven Morehead Scholars, and could they play. There’s a guy I’m still great friends with from our freshman team. Our 1966 team has had three reunions with just the freshmen from that year that we bonded with during that time. We had a guy named Bob Bode ’70 (’74 JD) — some of you may know Bob — he’s an attorney in Raleigh. He’s a hoot. Bode could run all day. Delany and I used to argue before practice about which one of us would guard Bode because he was hard to guard. Larry never took us out. We just ran and practiced — I swear I thought I was on a track and field scholarship. It was incredible. It was a great experience. The bonding of our team, the people we met, the trials and tribulations. It was fabulous.
There was one other person I need to mention — I’m sure Jim mentioned it last year — Richie Gersten ’70 (’75 MAT). He was a freshman on our team as well. Richie’s father was Coach Larry Brown’s high school coach on Long Island. Rich today is one of my and Jim’s great friends for 48 years, and we’re still close. I can’t go without saying something about him, as he was fabulous.
Freshman year was a hoot. I was lost — I didn’t know what I was doing. I made the mistake (for the young people here) … you go to high school in New York, you were in school at 8 o’clock. Back then, they had six days a week of classes. Right, old-timers? Anyone who nods I know is an old-timer. I went Monday through Saturday. I was dumb enough to have six 8 a.m.’s, of which three days a week was “Modern Civilization.” That was boring.
The next three years were great. Joe’s class was the best class the University ever had. Rusty Clark ’69 (’73 MD), Bill Bunting ’69, Joe Brown, Gerald Tuttle and Dick Grubar ’69. Three straight NCAA’s and ACC Championships, and Jim and I connected in with a guy named Charlie Scott. Let me stop there with the experiences with Charlie. Charlie was the first great African American athlete on this campus. I think Willie Cooper ’68 was actually the first African American athlete here, but Charlie was phenomenal. Going through the Atlantic Coast Conference back then in somewhat of the Deep South made it an experience to be a teammate of Charlie Scott’s. To go through the verbal stuff and some of the things you heard. The way Charlie and Coach Smith handled it was a tremendous phenomenon. He really opened the doors to not only other African American athletes but other African American students as well. I didn’t realize this at the time — it’s kind of when you look back and say, “I didn’t know this was going on,” and you’re just trying to survive day-to-day. That was a terrific experience.
Coach Bill Guthridge came; Larry Brown left. Jim and I went to see Coach Guthridge yesterday. He’s been struggling with his health. Joe and I went by in June. Bill Guthridge was just a fabulous addition at that point to the program. I go through my sophomore and junior year with good teams. I was able to contribute, and I got my degree. It was a great experience. After my senior year, Coach Smith calls me in, calls all the graduating players in and says, “Eddie, what would you like to do in the future?” I said: “Coach, I think I want to be a coach. I’m not good enough to go to the NBA — I thought I would be, but I’m not, so I want to be a coach.” Dean Smith says, “Eddie, you’ll never be rich, but you’ll eat a lot of steak at the pregame meal.” I’ll never forget it. Another Dean Smith-ism that just hit me was when he called Jim and me and our freshman group in and said: “You’ll never be late. The height of egotism is when you are late.” I’ve told that to my children. When you are late, you are saying that your time is more important to you than the time of the people that you are meeting, and nobody’s time is more important than anybody else’s. It was Dean Smith time, and you were never late.
I go to DeMatha High School for a year as the assistant coach. Coach Smith helps me there so I can get my Ph.D. I spent 15 years as an assistant under Coach Smith. I call that my Ph.D, because then I went on to become a college coach myself. Let me kind of share a couple of recruiting stories with you. I don’t know if these have ever been told — everybody loves recruiting. They’ll be quick.
Three guys in the rafters — first one is Lee Shaffer’s ’60 jersey was up there. Now Lee had a son named Dean Shaffer. We were recruiting Dean. Coach Smith always had a rule — you never take the son of a former player unless the son is better than his dad. Dean wasn’t better than his dad. Lee was an All-American and played in the NBA. Dean was a great athlete, but he wasn’t his dad. So we’re sitting there, Bill Guthridge and I, and Roy Williams is part of that staff, we’re recruiting, and Coach says that he’s going over to see the Shaffers tonight and take care of it. He would explain to them that this is just not going to work out, even though I know they want him to be here, but that he would take care of it. Coach Guthridge says that he would go with him, and Coach Smith says that he’s got it. The meeting takes place. The next morning, we come in and Coach Smith says, “Meeting in the office.” We all go in the office, we sit down, and he stands up and says congratulations to us all. “We’ve got another player.” We asked him what happened. He said, “Ruthie started to cry and says that Dean is named after me!” True story.
Michael O’Koren ’80, the great Michael O’Koren from Jersey City, N.J. Anybody else here from Jersey or New York? Anybody ever been to Jersey City 30 years ago? What a place, right, Jim? Every other place is a bar. It’s the lower-income, hardworking firemen, cops, sanitation workers, etc. It’s the people that really know the city well. We’re recruiting Mike, and I’m from New York, so I’m a natural. And I’m single by the way, thank God. We were trying to recruit Mike for two years. It works out great. Mike chooses The University of North Carolina. He had an older brother, Ronald, but he had three great friends older than him that kind of mentored Mike. They kept him out of trouble. He couldn’t go to the bars and whatever. I would go and hang out with these guys — I almost missed my flights I can’t tell you how many times. One guy’s name is Gibby Lewis, Eddie Ford (they called him Fafa) — he knew everybody in Jersey City — and a guy named Ron Steinem. So here’s the story. We go to dinner at Rosie O’Koren’s. Just as sweet a lady as can be. We are celebrating Mike’s signing. We’re sitting there at the dinner table. Gibby Lewis drank more beer … that’s all he drank. We’re sitting there, and Rose O’Koren says, “Coach Smith, what would you like to drink?” He said, “Rose, I’ll have a glass of milk.” She gets around to Gibby Lewis and asks him, “Gibby, what would you like to have to drink?” He said, “Rosie, if Dean Smith drinks milk, then I’m drinking milk.” It was the first glass of milk he ever had.
Phil Ford ’78, the great Phil Ford. I saw Phil Ford play his first game as a high school senior — 61 points in Rocky Mount. I call up Coach Smith — I could hardly talk. The next day they played in Raleigh. Coach came over: 58 points. It was unbelievable. We go into the home, and we’re looking good. We go and meet the family. I call Phil the next day and say, “Phil, how did it go? How did it go with your dad?” He says, “Oh, Coach — my dad loved Coach Smith. It was great.” Then I asked, “What did your mom think?” “My mom said after Coach left, ‘What’s his first name? I know that he’s a dean of the school, but I never heard his first name!’ ” Mabel Ford.
Those are just three quick stories. Then I move on to be a head coach for 15 years. It was wonderful. I can’t tell you that Wichita State was an urban school. Everybody kind of hung out from Wichita. Vanderbilt University, an elite private school. That was rewarding, except all the kids were smarter than me. It was tough. You had to be careful what you said, because if you said something that contradicted what you said three years earlier, they would catch you. Then I went to the University of South Carolina. I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself, “What would Coach Smith do?” Every day. It was a difficult job, but I enjoyed it. I just can’t tell you the impact that that man had on my career. I wouldn’t be here today. The University, what it meant to me, the academics, the people. I would be remiss not to mention the town of Chapel Hill. When I am asked where I went to school, many times I say, “Chapel Hill.” Do you think anybody from Duke says, “Durham”? I apologize if there’s anybody here from Durham. It’s such a wonderful community, and I think it makes the University that much greater. The community and the people. I have been really blessed. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today. I feel like I was part of a great institution, a great experience. It’s been great to come back and reconnect through this group. Thank you very much.