(Editor’s Note: The GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal citations, such as this one, are read to the audience at the Annual Alumni Luncheon and then presented as a keepsake to the recipients.)
While Dean Smith was coaching the Tar Heels to 879 wins as Carolina’s head basketball coach over three and a half decades, alongside him for 30 of those years was a man who brought immense skills and a colorful personality to the mosaic of Carolina basketball.
In Bill Guthridge, the program had a fierce competitor, an organizational wizard, a shrewd judge of talent, an excellent teacher, a strict disciplinarian and a man who helped keep the team and coaching staff loose at all times with an understated but razor-sharp wit and dry sense of humor.
But Bill was not just a valuable number two guy. He did quite well as a number one as well. When Coach Smith retired following the 1997 season, Bill was the obvious and logical choice to succeed him. The universally envied Tar Heel program never missed a beat, winning 80 games in Bill’s three seasons as head coach and going to two Final Fours.
For a man who came to Chapel Hill in 1967, in his words, simply to “Do whatever I can to help Dean Smith,” Bill far exceeded those modest aims. His legacy is felt not only in the rich history of Tar Heel basketball but across campus as well.
In 1993, Bill and his wife Leesie created the William W. and Elise P. Guthridge Library Fund, which enabled the House Undergraduate Library to purchase much-needed humanities materials. The Guthridges also helped kick off the Undergraduate Library renovation campaign in 1998 by making a generous first donation toward the 2 million-dollar effort. The larger of the two multimedia classrooms on the upper floor of the library is named in recognition of their support.
Bill came to Chapel Hill four decades ago from his native Kansas, where he played basketball for Coach Tex Winter at Kansas State University. One of his claims to fame was drawing a charge from Cincinnati All-American Oscar Robertson and fouling him out of a game. One week later, he tried to draw a charge from Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas and Chamberlain simply jumped over the 5-foot-9 guard. It took Bill a while to live that one down. His sister was a student at the University of Kansas and introduced him to a fellow KU student and a basketball player named Dean Smith. Bill and Dean became friends and, in 1967, Smith hired Bill to join his staff in Chapel Hill.
Like Astaire and Rogers, like peanut butter and jelly, Smith and Guthridge proved quite a formidable pairing in their world, the fierce and competitive one of ACC basketball.
While Smith’s desk could be piled to the ceiling with scouting reports, game tapes and fan mail, Bill’s workspace was tidy and organized, save for his ever-present file folders and legal pad. Smith liked to joke that it took a battery of secretaries to keep him on schedule but that Bill could tell you what he’d be doing at 10:30 a.m. on March 26th five years in the future.
Tar Heel players often were amused when Bill, who planned the team’s travel, would cite a bus departure at 5:28 p.m.-not 5:15 or 5:30, but 5:28. You can be sure the players were on time. But arrive late or commit any of a number of other rules transgressions within the program and you’d find yourself on one of the dreaded 6 a.m. runs around Finley Golf Course with Bill Guthridge at your side, the coach always kicking it into high gear the last 200 yards. He beat everyone in those early morning runs, except Michael Jordan ’86.
Former Tar Heel player and coach Dave Hanners ’76 noted that Bill easily could have run IBM or General Motors.
Roy Williams ’72 and the Carolina program paid homage to Bill in February 2007 by naming the Tar Heels’ locker room for him. Williams said it was an honor to drive up to the building named for Dean Smith. He followed that it was now an honor to walk into the locker room named for Bill Guthridge. Bill’s legacy also extends another generation at Carolina, as he has a son and daughter among our alumni.
For a man known for following a legend, it was apparent that Bill Guthridge had become something of a legend himself.