Friday, April 3, 2015

What does it mean to be a coach?

Former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith died last February at 83. He was the first coach in the modern era to treat his players as a family. There was nothing he wouldn't do to help them, whether they asked for help or not. It didn't matter if you were Michael Jordan or the team manager -- Coach was always available. He helped players get jobs. He helped them manage finances and solve marriage problems. He insisted they earn good grades, and most of all, he preferred that nobody talk about him. He liked being in the background.

Smith was so highly respected in North Carolina that when UNC played Duke soon after he died, both teams observed a moment of silence. But even after death, he made sure to thank his players one final time. In his will, he directed his trustee to give $200 to every letter winner who played for him during his 36 seasons as head coach at UNC. Checks were sent in March to 180 letter winners, and each check came with a letter instructing the player to "enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith."

Serge Zwikker played for Smith from 1993-1997. He said his wife opened the envelope and handed it to him.  "At first I didn't know what it was, but when it hit me, it put a tear in my eye," Zwikker said. "Even after he passed, he was still all about the players. I don't know if I can cash this. If anything, I will donate it to a good cause."  Godspeed, Coach Smith.

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