Dean Smith Bio And Facts

Dean Smith

Dean Smith

Dean Smith was a basketball coach who spent 36 successful years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He transformed UNC’s team into a well-oiled machine, with record-smashing seasons, a pristine image, and a high graduation rate. During his tenure, he coached the Tar Heels to 11 Final Four appearances and two NCAA Championship victories. At the time of his retirement in 1997, he was the most successful college basketball coach of all time, with 879 wins. He was born in 1931 and passed away in 2015, leaving behind a legacy of innovation, activism, and coaching excellence. His passion and commitment had a profound impact, and he truly changed the game of basketball.

Basic Info:

  • Born: February 28, 1931
  • Died: February 7, 2015
  • Education: University of Kansas
  • Net Worth: $5 million
  • Occupation: Basketball Coach
  • Position: Head Coach
  • Years Active: 36
  • Career Wins: 879
  • Career Losses: 254
  • Teams: University of North Carolina Tar Heels, U.S. Men’s National Team

Net Worth

In 2016, just a year after his death, Dean Smith reportedly had an estimated net worth of $5 million, the bulk of which is courtesy of his 36-year coaching career. In his will, Smith left $200 dollars to each of his former players and instructed that they “enjoy a dinner, compliments of their coach.”


Dean Smith began the road to his coaching career while playing at the University of Kansas and studying under Phog Allen. Post-graduation, he was Kansas’s assistant coach for a time before joining the Air Force and acting as the assistant coach there from 1955-1958. It was there that he began making a name for himself, developing innovative new strategies like the “four cornersoffense, and earning a reputation as a coach that built collaborative teams, made efficient substitutions, and performed under late-game pressure.

He found his footing as the assistant coach at the University of North Carolina in 1958, and in 1961 took over as head coach. It took him a few seasons to earn respect on campus, but he quickly led his team to record victories and brought UNC’s reputation to new heights. During his tenure, his teams won a record 879 games, with a staggering 27 consecutive seasons of at least 20 wins. The Tar Heels won the National Championship in 1982 and 1993, made it to 11 Final Fours, and won 65 NCAA tournament games throughout Smith’s career. He coached 21 first-round draft picks, including the legendary Michael Jordan, and was well-known for his commitment to his players and unparalleled leadership.

In 1976, Smith tackled one of the greatest challenges and honors of his career when he coached the US Olympic team to a gold medal. Winning the gold medal helped him accomplish the coveted “Triple Crown” of coaching, which consists of securing a gold medal and taking a college team to both the National Invitation Tournament and the NCAA Championship. After 36 wildly successful years in North Carolina, he decided to step down in 1997. At the time of his retirement, he was the most successful college basketball coach of all time. His career is characterized by his winning record, his invention or popularization of now commonplace strategies, his skill as a recruiter, his clarity and consistency in high-stress scenarios, and his unshakable loyalty to his players.

Titles and Awards

Dean Smith is hailed as one of the most legendary coaches in college basketball history and accrued many accolades throughout his career. When he retired in 1997, he set a record with 879 career wins and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983. His titles and awards for both his coaching and his character include:

  • Four-time National Coach of the Year (1977, 1979, 1982, 1993)
  • Nine-time ACC Coach of the Year (1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1988, 1993)
  • One-time Olympic Gold Medalist (1976)
  • Two-time NCAA Champion (1982, 1993)
  • North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1981)
  • Basketball Hall of Fame (1983)
  • National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame (2006)
  • Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (1997)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (2013)

Personal Life

As renowned as Dean Smith was as a coach, he is also celebrated as a present father, activist, and community member. A huge part of his legacy is not only his impressive track record, but the way he cared and advocated for those around him. He was born in Emporia, Kansas, in 1931, and grew up in a strict Baptist family. His father was a coach as well, which likely sparked his interest. He played basketball all through high school and as a reserve guard at the University of Kansas, but did not have the same skill playing as he ended up finding as a coach. He got a degree in mathematics as he began honing his coaching skills under Phog Allen.

Despite his conservative upbringing and the political landscape of North Carolina, Smith was an avid activist and lifelong Democrat who frequently joined campus protests, helped desegregate his community, and recruited the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first black player, Charlie Scott, in 1966. He was also vocal about the abolition of the death penalty, nuclear disarmament, and his Christian faith, reaching across the aisle both on and off the court. Smith married Ann Cleavinger in 1954 and had three children Sharon, Sandy, and Scott. The pair divorced in 1974, and Smith married his second wife, Linnea Smith, two years later. The two had children, Kristen and Kelly, and were together until Smith’s death in 2015. Players, colleagues, and friends describe Smith as an advocate, a devoted father, and a passionate community member who fiercely championed the many people in his orbit.

Fun Facts

  • Dean Smith had a 77.6% winning average over his coaching career
  • Coached five Rookie of the Year Winners
  • Dean Smith and Bob Knight are the only players in history to both play on and coach an NCAA Championship-winning basketball team
  • He popularized the “tired signal,” the hand signal that players use to indicate they need a break
  • He popularized the practice of huddling at the foul line before a shot
  • He popularized the four corners defense
  • Coached Michael Jordan and was recognized in Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction speech
  • He was one of North Carolina’s most prominent Democrats
  • Integrated the Tar Heels when he recruited their first black player, Charlie Scott
  • He once sent his assistant coach to Senegal to learn about the culture and help better communicate with a Senegalese teammate
  • In 2006 he became the spokesperson for Devout Democrats, using his progressive beliefs and unwavering faith to reach a wide range of voters


How many Final Fours did Dean Smith go to?

Dean Smith led his teams to 11 Final Fours in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1997. This places him as the coach with the third-most Final Four advancements of all time, ranked beneath John Wooden (12), and Mike Krzyzewski (13).

How many National Championships did Dean Smith win?

Dean Smith coached the Tar Heels to two National Championships, the first in 1982 and then again in 1993. Prior to this, they had won in 1957, and more recently, they claimed the title again in 2005, 2009, and 2017.

How did Dean Smith die?

Dean Smith shocked fans in 1997 when he abruptly retired. He cited not having the same level of energy and enthusiasm for coaching as he once did, and that he didn’t want to do his teams a disservice. In later years, it came to light that he was suffering from the beginnings of dementia and his struggles with memory would have impacted his coaching abilities. He died peacefully in 2015, at the age of 83, with his wife and five children by his side.