The person I admired most and who was and is my role model, former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, passed away last Saturday. Elaine and I were at home Sunday when I read about Dean's passing. At first to Elaine, I expressed relief that he had died because the stress his illness had likely placed on his family.
But then grief overcame me, and I sobbed hard for several minutes. I became a Carolina fan in 1966 when I was 14, and over the years Coach Smith shaped me as man and as a high school English teacher. I read Dean's books and followed his philosophy on life. Meaning in part, that I should treat my students with respect, that I should set high expectations for them and that they should meet those expectations, and that I should be honest and forthright in my dealings with them and others.
Over the years, I was able to meet and talk with three of the men who played for Coach Smith: Dave Colescott, Eric Montross, and Travis Stephenson. Colescott visited my high school English class and told my students about the importance of education and striving to be the best possible person one could be; these were things that Coach Smith emphasized to him. Colescott also told the students about the importance of even little life skills, such as being punctual. The former Carolina guard said that he had once been late for practice and that Coach Smith said that his tardiness showed a lack of respect for his teammates. Coach Smith further said that Dave would have the "honor" of practicing with his teammates the next day. That story is one of the reasons I am so insistent about my students being on time...as a way to show respect for their classmates.
Eric Montross was a big star in college and played in the NBA. Travis Stephenson was a sub at UNC and played sparingly. But both individuals, who played with each other at Carolina, told me that Dean treated all players the same, no matter what their reputation or skill levels were. That he cared about each and every player as individuals.
I never met Coach Smith and never wrote a letter to him thanking him for his positive effect on my life. But he will always be a part of who I am as a teacher, husband, and person.