Few names, personalities and records of achievement are more closely associated with the University than that of Dean Smith. For some months, there has been a conversation in the UNC community about the 79-year-old Smith’s health. The Fayetteville Observer published a story earlier this month in which people close to the basketball program — including radio commentators Woody Durham ’63 and Eric Montross ’94 — talked frankly about Smith’s difficulties with memory loss.
On Sunday, The News & Observer published a story in which Smith’s wife, Linnea, talked at length about his health. The Smith family also issued a public statement, which appears here along with a link to The N&O‘s story.
From the Family of Dean E. Smith:
“Our dad is almost eighty years old, so it’s expected that he might show signs of aging. After spending an entire lifetime without a visit to the hospital except to see players and friends, he had to undergo two procedures in the past three years: a knee replacement surgery and a repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. But what other people may have noticed — and what has been speculated about recently in the media — is that our dad may not remember quite like he used to. It’s a stark contrast, because he is widely known for remembering a name, a place, a game, a story — it’s what made other people feel like they were special, because our dad remembered everything.
“Coach Smith wanted to keep his professional and personal life separate. But as we all know, the personal and professional life can sometimes overlap, and we understand that many fans, former players, and friends are concerned about his well-being. In trying to balance our dad’s wishes and the genuine concern so many people have for Coach Smith, we want to update you about his health, but ask that you respect his privacy. Our dad has a progressive neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory. So now, he may not immediately recall the name of every former player from his many years in coaching, but that does not diminish what those players meant to him or how much he cares about them. He still remembers the words of a hymn or a jazz standard, but may not feel up to going to a concert. He still plays golf, though usually only for nine holes instead of eighteen. He still attends some sporting events — you might see him in the stands at his grandson’s baseball game. He has difficulty traveling long distances to see the Heels on the road, but he insists on watching all Carolina basketball games on television and cheers as hard as he can for Coach Williams and the team.
“Although some of the ways he experiences daily life have changed, he still cherishes his many relationships with Carolina basketball, his family and his friends.
“Throughout his career, he has always preferred the spotlight be on the Carolina basketball program and the University, rather than himself. We hope that you will understand and respect his wishes. Thank you for your consideration and well wishes for our dad.”