INSTALLING THE SYSTEM, 1965-82
"It was as if he said, 'Just do as I say, and we'll win
After seeing their coach dangling from a tree, the 1964-65 Tar Heels went on to win nine of their remaining 11 games. The following season they added Smith's breakthrough recruit, a swaggering forward from Pennsylvania named Larry Miller. Freed at last from NCAA purgatory, finally with a team of his own choosing, the coach began to put together something that, if it wasn't a system—he bristles at the word, for to him it connotes rigidity—did have a kind of daunting industrial strength.
Smith started to make a family of the players passing through his program, from which none would be entirely weaned. (His feistiness in showing his loyalty once caused Terry Holland, then Virginia's coach, to remark, "There's such a gap between the man and the image the man tries to project.") In keeping with the spirit of a time of social turbulence, Smith did his own groping and struggling, both personally and professionally. During the 1970s he divorced and remarried, and he was widely second-guessed for losses in which he ordered his team into the Four Corners too early. Given his nature, he did plenty of second-guessing himself. Rules remained at the foundation of his philosophy. But no rule was exempt from the test of reason, which would sometimes introduce a rule to its exception.
LARRY MILLER, forward, 1965-68:
One of his rules was that we had to go to church on Sunday and bring back a brochure to prove we'd gone. After I didn't go a couple of weeks Coach Smith called me into his office. At the time I had objections to what I thought was hypocrisy in the church. So I told him that if I were at home, my parents wouldn't make me go—that I could have had someone grab a brochure for me, but that wouldn't have been right. I asked him to respect my beliefs. And he did.
CHARLIE HOAG, college teammate and fraternity brother:
I remember him telling me once that he recruits the parents harder than the kids. "Parents help me sell the kid," he told me. "And if the kids don't respect their parents, they sure won't respect me."
GEORGE KARL, guard, 1969-73:
Before we lost in the 1972 Final Four, he said Florida State was a team we probably shouldn't press. But we'd pressed all year, so we weren't going to change. He was right; we shouldn't have pressed. But it showed that he wasn't going to back off his belief in us. We returned that belief with our belief in him.
Coach Smith kept us believing, even when we probably shouldn't have. Sometimes just believing resulted in miracles.
MITCH KUPCHAK, center, 1972-76:
At home against Duke in 1974, we were down eight points with 17 seconds left. There was no three-point shot, so we had to score four times to tie it. The final shot in regulation was a 35-footer by Walter Davis, and we won in overtime.