I had the privilege of playing basketball for the University of North Carolina in the 1970s. I had the special privilege of playing for Coach Dean Smith, a Hall of Fame coach, an innovator and basketball genius, a man of impeccable integrity.
On Monday night, North Carolina won its sixth national championship in its storied history. Coach Smith won two of those. Three belong to Coach Roy Williams, the present Tar Heel coach. The other championship occurred in 1957 under Coach Frank McGuire – an undefeated season.
Roy and I were in school together. He is a friend. Like his mentor, Dean Smith, he’s a really good coach and an even better person. After Monday night’s championship victory, I conjectured what he learned from Coach Smith that has made him so successful in his own right.
It didn’t take me long to discern my answer. It’s simply three things.
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First, Coach Smith emphasized people are always first. He made people his highest priority. He never used his players to become great. He committed to serve his players so they could become great. As a result, his players would give every ounce of effort and energy to win for him. He practiced servant leadership, what Jesus addressed when he said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Second, Coach Smith emphasized the team is always first. The individual was asked to give up individual stats, accolades and honors for the sake of the team. “Teams win games, not individuals,” he always said. We learned sacrifice, working together for the sake of the whole, and not being selfish. What great life principles all need to know! The team was cohesive. It was extraordinarily hard to prepare to play against us. Any player could beat you on any night.
Third, Coach Smith emphasized integrity first. He practiced what he preached. He was an integrated person – the same inside as out, in public and in private, his words matching his deeds. We knew he wasn’t a phony. We knew that he really cared for us. We knew he wouldn’t betray us. We knew he was an honorable man whose word could be trusted. He was a man we wanted to emulate.
Others first, the team first, and integrity first were the earmarks of Dean Smith. He passed these qualities on to his players and mentees. Roy Williams learned them. He has passed them on to his players and mentees. These lessons will live on for decades to come. They will influence people who will produce national championships in future years.
Never doubt a life well-lived. The way you influence others lives on and on well after you are gone.
Dean Smith died February 7, 2015, at the age of 84. On April 3, 2017, I think he smiled joyfully from heaven as he watched his mentee and friend, Roy Williams, surpass him with a third national championship.
And I think that Coach Smith smiled especially as he observed the principles Roy was passing on to his players and followers – principles he had taught Roy years earlier when Roy was his assistant coach – principles that often lead to national championships and success in life.
Chadwick is senior pastor at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte.