Compilation: Dean Smith Retirement Memories

By Adam Lucas | 5 Comment(s) | Posted

Fifteen years ago today, Dean Smith announced his retirement and shocked the Carolina fan base. He had just piloted the 1996-97 squad from 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference to a Final Four berth. Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Ademola Okulaja, Shammond Williams and Ed Cota were all scheduled to return for what promised to be a loaded 1997-98 club. And then, suddenly...Coach Smith retired.

The press conference was held in the Skipper Bowles Room, and it was one of the most well-attended press conferences in school history. Students crowded around the upper levels of the room, trying to peer through windows to get a glimpse of the now-former head coach. Photographers snapped hundreds of pictures, staff members from the athletic department packed the walkway above the press conference area, and tears were shed--included, in a brief moment, by Smith himself when he tried to thank his players and staff.

You can watch the press conference here:


For Carolina fans of that era, it was a where-were-y0u-when moment. And that's exactly the question we asked on Twitter and Facebook today, to try and get a sense of how fans remember Coach Smith's retirement 15 years later. The responses, especially from those people who were on campus that day, are an oral history of one of the most important days in the history of the Tar Heel basketball program. 

On campus

My frosh year. Tried to break into the natatorium to see press conference. Failed. Met Chancellor Hooker in the process. @jrt4unc


Went to class and a group of us went to the Rat for lunch and talked fav bball moments. Sad sr yr without Dean. @JohnNAderholdt


In the Student Union grabbing a drink. Skipped class to watch the press conference. @C_N_Graham


Learned about it seeing a DTH headline right in front of Kenan Stadium going to class from Ehringhaus to Phillips. @jjjones325


on campus. I remember the night before hearing the rumor in the undergrad and convincing myself it wasn't true. @jeffsmitts


I was in college at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, AR. I attended my scheduled afternoon class, only to ask the instructor beforehand if I could leave early to go back to my room and watch the news conference on TV. He declined. I took my seat.....then got up and walked out after 20 minutes so I could make it back to my room. Paul Gatling


I was watching WRAL 6:00 news with Bob Holliday, reporting live from UNC. I was hoping the rumors weren't true, as apparently many students were as well, because when Bob Holliday confirmed Dean Smith's retirement, we could hear shouts of dismay on campus. Kenna L. Walker


Wow! It's been 15 years?!?! I was a freshman in Hinton James. Heard the news and walked across the street to the Smith Center to join hundreds of other shocked students. Couldn't think of anything else to do other than just sit there. Drew Hardison


I was a freshman at UNC, standing on Franklin St. when I noticed that everyone was standing around, peeking through windows at TVs and someone told me why. I had been a lifelong fan and it was right then that I realized I would never get to see Dean Smith coach in person. So sad. Jessica Harris


I had the pleasure of covering that event ... for Technician, NCSU's student paper. It was THAT big of a day. @Matt_Lail


At work

Took the day off work & went 2 Chapel Hill. Raised by a single mother & Coach was like a father figure 2 me. @ericmurphync


I was stationed at Ft. Stewart, GA. We were talking about it in the motor pool working on Bradley's. Won't forget. @unclifer


I was in an Anderson, SC hotel after work. Saw the news on ESPN. Remember it like it was yesterday. #Dean #GOAT @B23Heels


I was at work. My buddy called me and I turned on the TV in the bar. Got choked up, and had to go back to work. @heathman68


I was training at the National Training Center. I was promoted to E-5 that day. Good day and sad day all rolled into one. Rod Johnson


I came home from work to watch it by myself with eyes watering. I still get that same feeling every time I see Coach. Robert Ramsey


The younger generation

I was 6 years old at soccer practice. My mom cried. The significance was not lost on me. @SeanPetrizzi


High school jr yr comp sci class. Now I'm married with 2 kids. A lot has changed. Thankfully ‪#UNCBBall hasn't! @_bierlein


In high school in Pennsylvania. Bawled my eyes out. No one else understood. @Jon_UNC


I was in Mrs. Cooley's 5th grade class watching the press conference... she said it was big enough news to stop class. @bradarb08 (Editor’s note: the world needs more Mrs. Cooley’s)


10 years old at a YMCA camp. Still remember everyone with those full page posters the N&O put out. Sad sad day. @mattbunn01

If they aren't already cutting onions somewhere near your computer, this should take care of that--Freddie Kiger's collaboration with UNC New Media that ran at the Celebration of a Century event. It's included on the 100 years of Carolina Basketball DVD

I remember watching that video before the Celebration of a Century and thinking, "Well, the good news is that no matter what else happens, people are going to love this video and think we did a great event."

What are your memories of Coach Smith's retirement? You can share them in the comments below.


  1. Linda Gilbert's avatar
    Linda Gilbert
    | Permalink
    My best memory of Dean Smith was close to Father's Day I had the opportunity to fly in first class from Chicago to Raleigh. Dean was sitting behind me and I really didn't want to bother him cause sure he gets tired of it but I knew this was going to be my only chance to get an autograph for my Dad who has always been a Tarheel fan and a Dean Smith fan so I knew I had to do something. So right before we landed I turned around with a napkin in my hand and told him about my Dad and asked if he would give me his autograph and passed him the napkin. Well he did better than that. He had a yellow legal pad open and asked my Dads name and wrote him a note and signed. I was thrilled and thanked him and he meet my daughter, Jamie who later went to UNC . Gave to my Dad for Father's Day and he kept the framed autograph note with him in his car till he passed away in 2008. Of course my house has been a Tarheel home since I was born, and always will be ...Go Heels!!!
  2. Dave's avatar
    | Permalink
    I'm not going to lie: I cried that day. And I was 26 years old. I left work early to watch the press conference with friends. Then we went to He's Not Here and raised a blue cup to the greatest basketball coach ever.

    I can't believe it has been 15 years ..
  3. Mark's avatar
    | Permalink
    I got to see Dean break Adolph Rupp's record against Colorado at the LJVM Coliseum in Winston Salem in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the NCAA tournament. That was the last time I got to see him coach in person. I was very saddened but not surprised when he retired.
  4. Megan Livengood's avatar
    Megan Livengood
    | Permalink
    I had just recently submitted my application for early admission to UNC when this news broke. I was devastated - how could this happen right before I became a student? I grew up loving Carolina and didn't even apply to any other college my senior year of high school. We went to see the team come home after the championship in 1993- and I knew that was where I wanted to go. Though I missed being a student during the Coach Smith era, I still experienced some great basketball memories when Coach Guthridge took the boys to the Final Four. Can't believe it's been 15 years.
  5. mike salisbury's avatar
    mike salisbury
    | Permalink
    In the summer of 1997, I decided to leave my job and home in new jersey to go follow what I thought would be the last 5 or 10 years of Dean Smith's career. I found a job and an apartment in Chapel Hill. I had my season tickets. I had been a devoted fan since my family moved to Chapel Hill in 1976(we left in '81), Phil Ford's freshman year. I never questioned my decision. It just felt right. The man and his philosophy had been such a guide in my life. I moved into my apartment and started the job on October 1st. Coach retired 8 days later. I was standing outside Crook's Corner. In total shock and disbelief. I got into my car, but did not know where to go. It was absolutely as if someone close had died. It took a long time to find my mojo after that. I was interviewed on Franklin St by Curry Kirkpatrick, so being on sportscenter was an interesting twist to this little tragicomedy. I stayed and saw all the home games that season, but the writing was on the wall. I was chasing a piece of my childhood and its innocence, but that piece was gone forever. Chapel Hill, as much as I love it, will never be the same. Thank you Dean, for all the memories and the influence you have had.....

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