New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Dave Hanners remembers the late North Carolina coach Dean Smith for the impact he had on all of his players.
Smith, who coached Tar Heels teams for 36 years, died Sunday night at age 83.
Hanners was a reserve guard from 1972-76. It was at the end of his college career when Smith gave him advice that helped lead to an NBA coaching career in its 15th season.
“He was gracious enough when I was in college to help me figure out a life path, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do,” said Hanners, who had majored in English and was leaning toward becoming a teacher and a coach.
“He said, 'Well, why don't you go to graduate school. We'll pay for your graduate school. You'll make more money, and you'll have a secondary degree, which always helps you get jobs.'
“And, the kind of advice like that, that he gave every one of his players, was just the greatest advice you could get from anyone. He had such experience and such a compassion to help every one around him.”
Hanners was a graduate assistant from '76-78 under Smith, and that launched his coaching career.
To Hanners, Smith was more than the head coach of one of the country's elite college basketball programs. He was the patriarch of a far-reaching family. Smith's tree has coaches such as Roy Williams, Larry Brown, Doug Moe and George Karl to name a few.
Hanners received his break in the NBA when Brown hired him as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2000.
Hanners was coming off his second stint as a North Carolina assistant, in which he spent 11 years - from 1989-2000. After getting experience with other programs, Smith rehired him as a regular assistant.
It was during Hanners' second year during that time that Smith stood up for him and helped change an NCAA rule. The NCAA had mandated that lower-ranking coaches in programs be designated as restricted earnings coaches.
“I went from making a good salary to $16,000 a year,” Hanners said. “He was so upset. He was instrumental in the restricted earnings suit and making sure I got money back.”
Smith, of course, is renown for the impact he made on social change in North Carolina. The son of a Kansas high school coach whose 1934 team had the first black player in the history of the state tournament, Smith was known for eating in restaurants with African-Americans in the 1960s in the campus' Chapel Hill area. And, when he signed guard Charlie Scott in 1967, it integrated the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Hanners remembers an historic decision by Smith during his time there. Smith had been selected to coach the 1976 Olympic team, during the days when college players represented the United States. He brought in Georgetown coach John Thompson as an assistant, making him the national team's first black coach.
“Who was his Olympic coach? John Thompson, and that was early in (Thompson's) career when he was not a household name,” Hanners said. “(Smith) knew he was a very good coach, and he knew he had the same kind of program that he had, that he cared about his players.”
A hallmark of Smith's tenure at North Carolina was that 96.6 percent of his players graduated. Banners were not put up at Carmichael Auditorium, where the team played, or later the Dean E. Smith Center, unless every member of a team got his degree.
Another was that North Carolina was known as a clean program. Hanners said it was the type of players recruited and the care the coaching staff put into the program. There were a lot of life lessons, he said.
“They knew everything – who all your professors were, and they stayed on top of it,” Hanners said, chuckling. “But coach Smith always told us about things such as our appearance, also. He said you could be somewhere and meet the CEO of a company and be talking to him and never know it.”
Hanners, whose locker was next to Smith's at North Carolina, remembers Smith saying in 1992 that he felt he no longer had the fire to do the job at a high level.
“I'm thinking, 'You can't leave, not yet,” Hanners said.
Five years later, in the spring of 1997, top assistant coach Bill Guthridge, who had been handling many of Smith's administrative duties, asked Hanners to help get him back in the swing of the Tar Heel's offense, Hanners said. The following October, Smith retired with 879 wins, the most in college basketball, and Guthridge was hired as head coach.