The University and the United States Basketball Writers Association are creating an award to honor the late Dean Smith.
The Dean Smith Award will be presented annually by the USBWA to an individual in college basketball who embodies the spirit and values represented by Smith. Candidates for the award can include coaches and others, both male and female, from all divisions of the NCAA and NAIA.
“We are proud to honor the legacy of Coach Smith,” said USBWA President Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports. “Dean Smith was not simply a coach who won but a coach who educated outside the gymnasium, who demonstrated a concern for his players beyond their athletic ability, who had an active voice on social issues and was an agent for positive change. He was a great role model for his peers and for future generations. We are pleased to recognize those who have followed his path.”
Smith, who died in February, coached 36 seasons at Carolina, with his teams winning two national championships and an Olympic gold medal and appearing in 11 Final Fours. He retired in 1997 with 879 victories, which at the time were the most by any basketball coach in Division I history.
“The Dean Smith Award is about recognizing individuals for things beyond winning basketball games,” said Washington Post columnist and former USBWA president John Feinstein, who is known to have been working on a book about Smith when the coach died. “Coach Smith used his platform to take on tough issues that most people in sports shy away from. We want to honor those who have lived up to his ideals.”
The award will be presented at a dinner on the UNC campus each year prior to the start of the basketball season and will be open to the public.
Proceeds will benefit the Dean E. Smith Opening Doors Fund, launched in April to assist students from low-income families attend college and to help professionals in education and social work pursue advanced degrees — two causes close to Smith’s heart.
Smith is remembered not only for his coaching success but his accomplishments off the court. He took a stand on a number of social and political issues during his career, championing racial equality and joining protests on campus against segregation. He helped integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill, and in 1966, he recruited the first African-American player to Carolina, Charles Scott ’70.
Smith was opposed to the Vietnam War and the death penalty and spoke publicly in support of women’s rights. He also recorded radio spots to promote a freeze on nuclear weapons.
In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Smith the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his “courage in helping to change our country.”
Smith also is known for his loyalty to his players. He was deeply involved in their lives during and after college. Shortly after his death, it was announced that Smith’s will included sending a $200 check to every letterman who played for him at Carolina; with each check came a message: “Enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”
“The USBWA has a long history of supporting college basketball and honoring the men and women who make our game great, so I am thrilled that the USBWA would honor Coach Smith’s legacy with this award,” said head coach Roy Williams ’72. “The award will be especially meaningful because its criteria go beyond winning games in selecting people in college basketball who have made a significant impact on their communities. It recognizes the profound impact Coach Smith had on so many lives.”