College Basketball

David Chadwick, pastor and former UNC player, on his new book about Dean Smith

Rev. David Chadwick
Rev. David Chadwick Raleigh

David Chadwick played for Dean Smith at North Carolina from 1968-71, back in the relatively early portion of Smith’s tenure at UNC. Now, more than 40 years after playing for Smith and graduating from UNC, Chadwick has written a book – “It’s How You Play the Game” – detailing 12 principles of Smith’s approach to leadership, business and life.

Chadwick, who since 1980 has been the pastor of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, is the only one of Smith’s players to have written a book about him. The book will be released this month. I recently interviewed Chadwick on a variety of topics related to the book and to Smith:

Andrew Carter: You played for Dean Smith from 1968-1971. More than 40 years after your playing days, what made you want to write this book?

David Chadwick: The reason for the book is I wanted to give people insights into coach Dean Smith, a great man who had a tremendous impact in sports, the lives of his athletes and was a great influence in my life. When I would meet people, and they’d learn I played for coach Smith, they would immediately ask, “What was it like for you to play for him? What did he teach you about life and leadership?” This book tries to answer these questions and give special insights into who he really is and what an incredible man and leader he was, and continues to be.

AC: There are other books about Dean Smith and his leadership style out there – what makes yours unique?

DC: My book is unique because it’s the only leadership book written about him by a former player. It gives insights from the inside other authors couldn’t give simply because they didn’t actually play for him.

I’m the only former player to write a book about him. Because we remained good friends through the years, coach gave me his blessing to write the book. I really believe he was honored that one of his former players would work as hard as I did to write the book for and about him. It was a labor of love.

AC: You’ve been a senior pastor at Forest Hills Church in Charlotte since 1980 (before I was alive, by the way). Did you always know that you wanted to become a pastor? After leaving UNC, what was your journey like to becoming one?

DC: My dad was a pastor. I ran away from the calling. After three years in the European professional leagues (one in Belgium and two in France), I came back to the States and took a graduate assistant job at the University of Florida where John Lotz was the head coach. John was an assistant at UNC and recruited me out of high school. He also was a great man and person of faith. After my two years there, with a graduate degree in counseling in hand, I received and responded to an undeniable call of God on my life to do ministry. I entered seminary soon thereafter, interestingly, with Coach Smith’s blessing. I was the only one of his players to get an earned MDiv (a Master¹s of Divinity) and a DMin (a doctorate of ministry) and go into church ministry. We loved to talk theology, Bible and church work when together. He regularly sent me articles about these subjects he thought provocative.

AC: A lot of Dean Smith’s players have stories about how much he meant to them off the court and about how their relationship with him grew after their college playing days. I imagine it’s the same for you. How did your relationship evolve after you left UNC?

DC: When you were a player at UNC, you see coach Smith as much more than the coach, but the authority figure. He’s the coach – he is in control. You do what he wants. But you know he cares for you. But there has to be some necessary distance. After you graduate, he becomes your friend. He would do anything for you. He was like a close father and friend, someone to whom you could turn for anything.

AC: What’s the story about how you arrived at UNC? Do you remember the first time you encountered Dean Smith and what did you – and others – really know about him back then?

DC: The first time I remember encountering coach Smith was my senior year in high school. I looked up in the stands and there he was. He had come to watch me play. Then he organized an in-home visit with me and my parents. I remember that he was very cordial. He asked a lot of questions to my parents before ever talking to me. I think he was recruiting my parents. But I think too he wanted them to make sure he would care for me like one of his children. Plus, he guaranteed I’d go to class and earn my degree.

My mom and dad especially liked him. It looked like he was a good coach. My senior year in high school he took UNC to a Final Four. He had just signed Charlie Scott. John Lotz told me they’d win for years to come with Charlie on any team. He said he was that good.

AC: You played at UNC in the relatively early portion of Dean Smith’s tenure at UNC. He’d had success by the time you arrived, of course, but back then did people have an appreciation for what could be in the making?

DC: I think we who signed at UNC in the mid-to-late 60’s had a sense he was a good coach, maybe really good. The foundation was being laid. He went to another Final Four in ’68, my freshman year, then again in ’69, my sophomore year. I don’t think any of us though knew then he would go on and accomplish what he accomplished. Looking back, many of us are just thankful that such a great man and coach would offer us a scholarship to play for him.

AC: The social causes Dean Smith stood up for – integration included – are a big part of his legacy, and you were one class behind Charles Scott, who the year before you arrived became the first black scholarship athlete at UNC. What stands out now when you reflect on that time period, and how did Smith – and Scott – handle all the challenges and pressure that came with breaking down walls that a lot of people in the South then didn’t want to see broken?

DC: Coach Smith made it clear to all of us that racial equality was important to him. We saw him stand up for Charlie. One time, a fan of an opposing team started yelling racial slurs at Charlie from the stands. After the game, we had to hold coach Smith back from going into the stands after the guy. He demanded restaurants serve Charlie or the entire team would go elsewhere. For coach Smith, taking the stands he did for racial equality, were simply the right thing to do. He didn’t see himself as courageous.

He was simply committed to doing the right thing. He put his beliefs into action. He helped integrate his high school team. He was a part of an integrated team at Kansas. Coming to segregated Chapel Hill in the late 50’s and seeing segregation in all its ugliness there was something he knew he had to try and change. Charlie was the first step. Bill Chamberlain was the second. The rest is history. I was honored to stand with him in these endeavors for justice.

AC: Rightfully so, Dean Smith is viewed as sort of a saint in North Carolina -- as this mythical legend. It’s deserved, of course. He would have been 37, though, when you started playing for him -- still a relatively young man who was growing into himself. How did you see the Dean Smith you played for evolve over the years – and do you remember any experiences he had in those years that had a profound effect on him?

DC: I think there were several experiences that profoundly affected him in those early years and molded him into the man he became. First, I think him being hung in effigy by the student body in 1964, not once but twice, really affected him. After this, he read a book by Catherine Marshal entitled “Beyond Ourselves.”

In it was a chapter on faith. She emphasized how little we really can control in life. After reading this chapter, Coach Smith¹s faith took on a new tone. He realized he could only control what he could control. He did his best doing so, then he gave it all to God, trusting him to best control all life’s outcomes. He told me once that moment really gave him peace and freedom to simply coach to the best of his ability and leave the outcomes to God.

Second example had to do with the criticism that he couldn’t win the big one. He started coaching in 1962. It wasn’t until 1982 that he won his first national championship. That’s 20 years – a truly long time. After winning the championship, a reporter asked him if it felt good to have the monkey off

his back, having now won the big one. Purportedly, he said, “I’m no better or worse a coach than I was before the national championship game.”

The second example may very well tie into the first one!

AC: You were also at UNC the same time as Roy Williams, who played on the freshman team in 1968 and ’69. Did you guys know each other? Any good stories about Ol’ Roy from back then?

DC: Yes, Roy is a friend, a year behind me. We knew each other pretty well at UNC. He wrote the foreword to the book. It was in the middle of this season when I asked him to do so. He graciously agreed and got it back to me immediately. It’s a very moving, well-done foreword. I think what most of us remember about Roy is that he was a good player but that freshman team was loaded! It was considered to be the best recruiting class in the country. But Roy played good minutes on an exceptional team.

Though he didn’t make the varsity the next year, he was always around. He took notes. He did whatever was asked of him. He was a sponge. And he wanted to know the game better. He had “coach” written all over him. And I think Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge noted it.

AC: If you could only pick one or two lessons you learned from playing for Dean Smith – ones you still think about today and that are an important part of your life – what would they be?

DC: How do I pick just a couple of ways he influenced me? The book lists 12 leadership principles he taught me. All 12 are a part of who I am. Here are two:

1) I care for others more than I do myself. My purpose as a leader is not to use people for my glory, but to serve people for their success. He embodied servant leadership, a term that’s become increasingly popular over the last 20 years. He lived it. It’s especially seen in the $200 check he sent his former players. Even from the other side of eternity he is still serving us! Amazing! He always said, “Players win games, coaches lose them.” That was regularly practiced too.

2) I always need to point to the person who gave me the pass. It was one of his major innovations. Teams still do it today. The player who scores must acknowledge the player who sacrificed and gave up the ball for a pass. We all stand on the shoulders of people who have helped me succeed. Therefore, life needs to be filled with constant “thanks yous” to those people. This book was a small way for me to point to coach Smith and say, “Thank you for the pass. Thank you for all you did to help me succeed. I’m a better man for having played for you and knowing you as my mentor and friend.”

Andrew Carter covers UNC athletics for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter @_andrewcarter.