A Man of Loyalty

The University is feeling the weight of a long list of people lost this year. Dean Smith was remembered in the March/April Review, and now Chancellor William Aycock ’37 (MA, ’48 JD) in this issue; also the eminent historian William Powell ’40 
(’47 MA, ’47 BSLS); Jack Adams, former dean of the journalism school; and Elson Floyd ’78 (’83 MEd, ’84 PhD), the president of  Washington State University who for three years was executive vice chancellor here.

Douglas S. Dibbert '70

Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

We also said goodbye to Bill Guthridge.

He came close to taking his quiet genius away from Carolina once. He had accepted the head coaching job at Penn State and shared that news with then-Chancellor Chris Fordham ’47 in Phoenix, where Carolina was playing in the NCAA tournament. Barbara Fordham ’49 asked him, “Are you happy?” He replied, “No.” Carolina lost that night, and he was set to fly to State College, Pa., where he would be introduced as the new head coach. But he checked his bags only through to Chicago, vowing to “figure out what I’m going to do” during the flight. Upon arriving in Chicago, he checked his bags on to RDU. He later explained: “I already have the best job in the country.”

That was Bill Guthridge.

Several years later, my wife, Debbie, and I were in New Orleans for the men’s NCAA Final Four. On Monday afternoon, we returned to our hotel. As we walked to our room, I could hear someone whistling the Michigan fight song. Concerned that an opposing fan was trying to irritate our players, I went to investigate. By the time I reached the elevator, the whistling had ended, and the only person in sight was our assistant head coach. I explained what I had just heard. He began to whistle the Michigan fight song, then stopped, and asked, “Did it sound like that?” He explained that he often whistled the opponent’s fight song on the day of a big game to motivate the players and coaches.

That, too, was Bill Guthridge.

Bill Guthridge was a Kansas State Wildcat before he became a Tar Heel. My longtime friend and counterpart at Kansas State, Amy Button Renz, wears K-State purple all the time. The only item in her office that doesn’t reflect her alma mater’s dominant color is a Carolina baseball cap — with the interlocking NC — autographed by Bill Guthridge. I proudly presented that to Amy at a professional meeting — in St. Louis, home of Bill Guthridge’s beloved St. Louis Cardinals.

Over what proved to be Bill Guthridge’s final 20 months, former UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 faithfully took him to lunch weekly — usually to Finley Club House and occasionally Sutton’s. Seldom, if ever, did they dine alone. Those of us who sometimes joined them always enjoyed Bill’s wit and dry sense of humor. His twinkling eyes and enveloping smile drew his legions of friends and admirers close. Stories abound about his “Excuses” jar (always empty) that he offered to wayward players, his “player” response whenever he was greeted as “coach” and his interlocking pointer fingers handshake.

Bill Guthridge earned well-deserved recognition for his coaching achievements — too many to mention them all. It is remarkable that he played or coached in 14 Final Fours, more than anyone in NCAA men’s basketball history, and became only the second coach to take teams to the Final Four in two of his first three years as a head coach.

On the eve of the Carolina-Kansas semifinal game in the 1993 Final Four, then-Kansas Coach Roy Williams ’72 was asked about how difficult it would be again to face Dean Smith and Carolina. Williams reportedly responded, “Everything I know about basketball, I learned from Coach Smith.” Smith was asked about Williams comment and responded, “That may be so, but everything I know about basketball, I didn’t teach Roy.”

Clearly, everything Dean Smith knew about basketball he did teach Bill Guthridge, and it is very likely that oftentimes Bill Guthridge taught Dean Smith. During their 30 years working closely together, they forged a unique, special personal and professional relationship. There was never any doubt that Dean Smith valued Bill Guthridge’s loyalty and believed that he would be the most appropriate person to assume the leadership of Carolina’s men’s basketball program when he retired.

Bill Guthridge met and married Leesie Pettrey ’69 (MSLS) in Chapel Hill, and they enjoyed 45 years of marriage. Until Bill’s health began to decline, they lived on a golf course. Bill loved to golf while Leesie loves to ski, and together they enjoyed traveling. And they were devoted to their children — Megan, Stuart and Jamie.

We don’t get to choose where or to whom we are born. Life is a journey, and we each are in search of inner personal and professional peace. Bill Guthridge’s loyalty to his family, his friends, his mentor, his alma mater, his players, his adopted university and hometown made it clear to all who had the joy of knowing him that he was a man who had long ago achieved inner peace.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature




Douglas S. Dibbert ’70

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