They were college teammates and former players, longtime colleagues and friends, people who worked alongside him and those who worked for him, all together as a family on Monday to remember and honor Bill Guthridge, the longtime North Carolina basketball coach.
It was a familiar gathering, in some ways. A little more than three months ago, many of them had come together not too far away for Dean Smith’s funeral. And now they were together again, this time at The Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church for the funeral service honoring Guthridge, who died at 77 on May 12.
“We worked together and played together for 25 years,” Dick Baddour, the former North Carolina athletic director and Guthridge’s longtime accomplice on the golf course, said before a crowd that spilled out the back of the church, where about 50 people sat in the shade of an old tree, listening to the service on a speaker. “I cannot imagine this world without Bill Guthridge.”
It is difficult for members of the UNC basketball family – one that includes former players and coaches, yes, but also generations of managers and support staff and many of their own family members – to envision a world without both Smith and Guthridge.
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For so long those men were pillars not just of a revered college basketball program, but leaders in a university community that viewed them as much more than mere basketball coaches. And now, months after saying goodbye to Smith it was time to say goodbye to Guthridge, who served as Smith’s assistant from 1967 through 1997 before becoming UNC’s head coach for three seasons.
But, said Linda Woods, who for decades worked in the UNC basketball offices as a secretary to both Guthridge and Smith, “I have such great memories. They’ll live on in my heart. They’re not gone. They’re not gone.”
She pointed to her chest while she spoke inside the reception hall at the church, where anybody who was anybody in the UNC basketball community had come to remember. There was Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins and there were plenty of others – Lennie Rosenbluth and Tyler Hansbrough – who didn’t even play on UNC teams during Guthridge’s tenure.
Those who attended Guthridge’s funeral represented the spectrum of his influence. And afterward Roy Williams, the UNC coach who counts Guthridge as one of his mentors, mingled in a crowd that included NBA hall of famers and former UNC team managers who could share equal stories of what Guthridge meant to them.
“He loved us,” Daniel Veazey, one of those former managers, said in his remarks during Guthridge’s service. “He really loved us.”
Veazey, a Morehead Scholar who went on to become a doctor after his days as a UNC manager in the 1970s, encouraged those who’d gathered in the small church to “be like Bill – a little more humble, a little more kind, a little more patient.”
Veazey was one of four, including Baddour, who shared memories and stories about Guthridge. Eric Montross, who helped lead UNC to the 1993 national championship, told stories about Guthridge’s dry wit and, among other things, the “excuses jar” that Guthridge kept on his desk.
It was a stone-ground mustard jar with a cork top, Montross said, and whenever a player had a reason for being a minute or two late to practice, or for not hustling back on defense, Guthridge “would just lift the top off the excuses jar,” Montross said.
After serving as Smith’s assistant for 30 years Guthridge became a head coach, finally, when Smith retired in 1997. Over the years Guthridge had several chances to leave UNC but stayed every time.
As a player or coach, Guthridge went to the Final Four 14 times – more than anybody else in history. Two of those Final Four trips came in his three seasons as the Tar Heels’ head coach.
“In 25-plus years,” Montross said later with a laugh, “I never shook the man’s hands.”
At the end of Smith’s public memorial service in February, Williams led people to point to the sky in honor of Smith’s directive to point to the passer – a nod to the assist man. At the end of his eulogy on Monday, Montross asked those who’d gathered to give the person next to them a finger shake in Guthridge’s honor.