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A Coach's Life

My 40 Years in College Basketball

A Coach's Life by Dean Smith
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Legendary University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith tells the full story of his fabled career, and shares the life lessons taught and learned over forty years of unparalleled success as a coach and mentor.

For almost forty years, Dean Smith coached the University of North Carolina men's basketball program with unsurpassed success- on the court and in shaping young men's lives. In his long-awaited memoir, he reflects on the great games, teams, players, strategies, and rivalries that defined his career, and explains the philosophy that guided him. There's a lot more to life than basketball- though some may beg to differ- but there's a lot more to basketball than basketball, and this is a book about basketball filled with wisdom about life. Dean Smith insisted that the fundamentals of good basketball were the fundamentals of character- passion, discipline, focus, selflessness, and responsibility- and he strove to unite his teams in pursuit of those values.

To read this book is to understand why Dean Smith changed the lives of the players he coached, from Michael Jordan, who calls him his second father and who never played a single NBA game without wearing a pair of UNC basketball shorts under his uniform, to the last man on the bench of his least talented team. We all wish we had a coach like Dean Smith in our lives, and now we will have that chance.
Random House Publishing Group; February 2000
ISBN 9780375504594
Download in secure EPUB
Title: A Coach's Life
Author: Dean Smith; John Kilgo; Sally Jenkins
On the day I took over as head coach at North Carolina, the chances of my finishing out my career in that job were about a hundred to one. Most Division 1 basketball coaches are fired somewhere along the line. Some become athletic directors; others became TV commentators or enter a new vocation. Only a lucky few retire as coaches.

One of the first things I did was institute the "tired signal." When a player was tired, I told him he could pull himself from the game. All he had to do was hold up a clenched fist. The trade-off was that he could put himself back in when he was ready. Looking back on it, I realize that often when I did something differently or innovatively as a head coach, I did it as a reaction to other coaches I had known—because I disagreed with them. Much as I respected Phog Allen, I wanted to rest my own players more than he had rested his. I knew we were in good physical condition, but our pressure defense and constant movement off the ball made it difficult not to be tired. Also, there were just a few games on TV, thus no TV time-outs then. When fatigue sets in, execution breaks down. I decided I would rather have a fresh reserve on the floor than a tired starter, a philosophy I stuck to for the next thirty-six years and for which I would be criticized at times. But it would also win us a few games. I felt the best judge of whether a player was tired was the player himself. Of course, if we coaches saw someone not hustling, we would take him out of the game for several minutes. This surely encouraged a player to take himself out of the game, rather than have the coach make the decision

The "tired signal" was not meant to be used away from basketball. When I walked toward the University Methodist Church for Donnie Moe's wedding, Donnie saw me through the window as he waited for the service to begin. He stepped out the side door and gave me the "tired signal." He wanted out of the game!

On December 2, 1961, we opened our season at home against Virginia, and I was only slightly apprehensive. I was looking forward to the game and felt very little pressure. I was a thirty-year-old whose only head-coaching experience was a dozen games as a player-coach in the armed forces. Before the game, I went to exhaustive lengths to plan everything, down to the last little details. For instance, I planned how our bench would be arranged during time-outs and where subs would sit when they came out of the game.

Finally it was game time. I took my seat on the bench in Woollen Gym, and our players took their places for the tip-off.
An official jogged over to me. "Where's the game ball?" he asked. I had forgotten it.

I sent team manager Elliott Murnick down to the end of the bench to pick out a game ball. Fortunately there was no TV coverage for the game.
Finally the game got under way. We found a good practice ball and the toss went up, and I became caught up in the action. For the first four minutes we were horrible. I took an early time-out, rare for me. I jumped them. "What happened to the new offense? We weren't running anything we had practiced, and we were impatient on offense." After that time-out, our players executed beautifully. I can still remember my pleasure as they created layup after layup. Defensively we were good from the outset. Virginia found it hard to complete a pass, much less find an uncontested shot.

Four or five times in the first half, I noticed players holding up their fists. I thought they were saying, "We've got them, Coach." At one point, Brown gave me a fist. I waved my fist back, as if to say, "Way to go, Larry!"
I had not only forgotten the ball, I had forgotten my own "tired signal."

We went on to beat Virginia, 80-46. But no sooner had we passed one test than another was in store for us. Our next game was at Clemson, and I didn't prepare the team properly for the press offense. We knew it because we had practiced it, but we didn't know it for a game on the road. I would never make that mistake again. From then on we practiced something until it was second nature, so that in the stresses of game situations, especially those encountered on the road, execution came off effortlessly. I hope. We did defeat Clemson in their small gym by 2 even though I did not have us ready to play on the road against a zone press.

I was learning that a head coach never relaxes. In December our only loss was to Indiana, 76-70, but we had only those three games. On January 6, 1962, we traveled to Charlotte to play against Notre Dame, and I was worried. The Fighting Irish were a good team coming off a big win over Illinois, and I respected their coach, Johnny Jordan, who was a friend from my days at the academy. He was such a good friend, in fact, that we had dinner the night before the game, which isn't done much anymore since there is so much tape to watch. Early in the day, Bob Quincy, our sports-information director and a friend, came by my room and said, "What are you so worried about? The line only has Notre Dame favored by six." The last thing I wanted to hear about was the betting odds after all we'd been through. "Don't ever mention a gambling line to me again," I said.
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