New collection at UNC gives visitors new insight into Dean Smith’s life, career

Dean Smith - File photo


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – There’s a new opportunity for the Triangle to get to know a Carolina icon.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill unveiled its latest donated gift, a set of archives with personal items, letters, and more from Tar Heel legend, coach Dean Smith.

CBS North Carolina’s Beairshelle Edmé toured the new collection Thursday and spoke with a UNC archivist, Nicholas Graham, who is working with the archives.

“In 2001, Smith was awarded the ‘Kansan of the Year’ award, in his home state, and he went back home to receive it,” Graham said, describing one piece of the collection. “This was many pages of handwritten drafts of the speech, so again it shows the kind of care he took in preparing it. He did it himself. He didn’t have a speech writer. He was writing all of this.”

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It’s the little details like this that Graham believes will leave an intimate portrait of Smith’s life.

Even in that handwritten speech, like anyone else, he scribbled away at lines that didn’t quite fit.

In other items, visitors can see displays of his intelligence with an A on a grade school report.

But what basketball fans really may love is the spotlight on the coach’s life that fans never saw outright. Examples of clear devotion from former players like a telegrammed note of congratulations for advancing to the Final Four. It’s from Carolina great, and arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan.

“That humility really comes through in the way he interacted with other people and the way he tried to deflect attention away from himself to the players, to the team, to the program,” said Graham.

Visitors can also find folders filled with letters to other coaches and their messages back, like one from another legendary coach, Bobby Knight.

“To see him (Knight) taking the time to sit down and write this letter to Smith really showed how much Dean Smith meant to other people too so that was a very striking piece,” the archivist told Edmé.

UNC hopes locals can take in this different side of Coach Smith.

You can visit the latest collection at the Wilson Library; it is recommended that you make an appointment by emailing wilsonlibrary@unc.edu or calling (919) 962-3765.

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