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The imperfections of a legend: Dean Smith


First of all let me state that this blog is very hard for me to write because I’ve always respected former UNC-Chapel Hill men’s basketball coach, Dean Smith and his legacy. In 1961, the UNC basketball program was found guilty of major NCAA violations and this led to the forced resignation of legendary coach, Frank McGuire at the end of the season. Smith was an assistant on McGuire’s staff and was highly recommended by him to be his replacement! 

At the time, no one imagined that UNC would be replacing a legend with a future legend.  Smith coached UNC from 1961-2007, retired with 879 victories, two NCAA titles and 11 Final Four appearances.

Smith had a great reputation for running a clean program and having a high graduation rate for his players, with slightly over 96% of his athletes receiving their degrees.

Smith’s off the court achievements are well documented as well. One of his most impressive achievements was promoting desegregation. In 1964, he joined a local pastor and a black North Carolina theology student to integrate The Pines, a Chapel Hill restaurant. He also integrated the Tar Heels basketball team by recruiting Charlie Scott as the university's first black scholarship athlete. In 1965, Smith helped Howard Lee, a black graduate student at North Carolina purchase a home in an all-white neighborhood.

I applaud Smith for doing what was right because many white coaches during that era didn’t have the courage to get involved in political issues!  With all of his on and off the court achievements, Smith became known as a legend in the world of basketball.

Even with all of his on the court achievements, Smith was not the most likable person.  A lot of opposing coaches and reporters accused him of being behind the scenes trying to manipulate players’, referees, commissioners and even fans.

In 1990 Dean Smith wanted to recognize former Virginia Cavaliers coach, Terry Holland's final coaching appearance in Chapel Hill. Holland didn’t want any part of it! Also there were his verbal wars with Rick Barnes (Clemson) Lefty Driesell (Maryland) and Mike Krzyzewski. (Duke)

Smith’s integrity started to come into question on October 22, 2014. That’s when Independent Investigator, Kenneth Wainstein released his findings pertaining to academic fraud at UNC. The fraud began in 1993 and lasted until 2011.
According to a 131-page report, student athletes were specifically steered towards paper classes by academic counselors for 18 years. The no-show paper classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department were “very popular among student-athletes, and especially those from the revenue sports," the report stated.

According to the Wainstein report, AFAM chair Dr. Julius Nyang'oro and his department manager, Deborah Crowder, were responsible for offering hundreds of “fake” classes that never met and had no faculty involvement. Although Nyang’oro became the professor of record for many of the fake classes, Crowder managed the classes and assigned grades.

Some of the notable findings of the report:
• Over the 18-years, the paper classes affected 3,100 out of a total of 97,600 undergraduate students at the university.
• Student-athletes accounted for 47.6 percent of enrollments in the irregular classes.
• Many of the student-athletes were directed to the classes by academic counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. These counselors saw the paper classes and the artificially high grades they yielded as key to helping some student-athletes remain eligible.
• Advisors in the Office of Academic Advising also directed non-athlete students to these courses.
• Various university personnel were aware of red flags, yet did not ask questions. There was a failure of meaningful oversight by the University.

Notice the fraud started in 1993! It was confirmed in the Wainstein report that Smith had players’ taking these no-show paper classes as well.

Debbie Crowder started as a secretary in the AFAM department in 1979. According to my research, it appears that Crowder was the first white employee in that department. No big surprise because Crowder was very well liked on campus.

On April 15, 2014, according to Dan Kane of the News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Crowder worked for a program that most athletes embraced.  One of them was Warren Martin, a 6-foot-11 center from Axton, Va., who entered the university in 1981 on a basketball scholarship. They struck up a relationship that continues to this day. They live next door to each other in a two-condo building near Pittsboro.

Also according to Kane, over the years, Crowder would have special access to basketball games through Martin, and she made many friends in the athletic department, including Smith’s secretary, Kay Thomas, and Burgess McSwain, a longtime academic adviser and tutor to the basketball team who died in 2004.

Crowder’s newfound friendships with Thomas and McSwain gave her access to Dean Smith! We can’t do anything but speculate on the conversations that may have taken place between all of them but it’s one of those things that make you go ooh! 

There’s speculation by many as to what the NCAA will do to UNC since the report findings have been revealed! I have seen many postings on social media calling for the NCAA to strip the UNC basketball program of their 1993, 2005 and 2009 National Championship titles.  I have also seen postings calling for current UNC head basketball coach, Roy Williams' termination.

If the NCAA did force UNC to vacate wins and their National titles since 1993, the legacy of Dean Smith would be severely tarnished because many considered him to have the model basketball program at UNC!

According to the Wainstein report, former UNC head basketball coach Matt Doherty (2000-2003), who also played for Smith’s 1982 NCAA National Championship team, stated that he inherited the academic support system developed by prior Coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge.  Doherty recalls being told by both coaches that he shouldn't change the academic support system.

Remember: Burgess McSwain, good friends with Debbie Crowder was the academic advisor. 

Doherty’s statements and paper trails dating back to the 1990s could be very detrimental to the legacy of his former head coach and mentor.

Current physical illnesses prevented both Guthridge and Smith from being interviewed by Wainstein so we didn't get to hear their versions but clearly there's enough evidence from statements and paper trails to prove that there was a Crowder/Burgess pipeline to Dean Smith and the paper classes!

The sad part is that Dementia steals most of the precious memories that Dean Smith once had in regards to his life and successful coaching career. I am not making any excuses for his imperfections but none of us are perfect!

Martin Luther King once said, "There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

Whether you loved or hated Dean Smith as a coach, you have to respect what he stood for off the court and that’s something that no one could ever remove from his legacy!

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