The Dean of Everything

When I saw the news on Twitter last Sunday about the passing of Dean Smith, my feeling of sadness was immediately followed by an urge to text JB and ask him to write something up for Notably Worthless. But after a brief moment, I realized it would mean more coming from me.

You see, I am not a lifelong Dean Smith fan. In fact, having been raised a Wolfpack fan, I was actually quite unimpressed with Dean Smith. But after he retired, the passage of time1 helped soften my hardened heart against Coach Smith. I was able to ignore the idol-worshiping noise a bit and finally absorb all of the stories that truly defined the man.

Sometimes talent, luck, hard work, and timing conspire to bring great fortune to a man. And other times, as in the case of Coach Smith, talent, luck, hard work, and timing conspire to bring great fortune to humanity. For a time, Dean Smith was measured by the players he produced and the wins he amassed. But that time has long since passed. Today, and for many generations to come, we remember Coach Smith for the men he served, the men he saved, and the men he sent out into the world better than he found them.

  1. And perhaps my own maturation.

Finding Light in the Darkness

I know it has been a while, but with my beloved University under fire and my own personal misgivings about the situation it just hasn’t felt right. However, a recently published interview with UNC AD Bubba Cunningham has provided me with at least the hope that the athletic department has someone in charge who is up to the challenge. While, I understand there is a cynical view to be take here, you will get no such read from me. I am going to focus on the hope.

Bubba’s comments when asked about the planned renovations to the Tar Heel basketball cathedral should provide all Tar Heel fans with faith in his leadership:

I think we need to upgrade a number of our facilities, but I don’t think the timing is right. So it’s still there, it’s still on the back burner. And as soon as we feel like, as a University, that we’ve healed ourselves and we feel comfortable, then I think we’ll move forward.

I am most appreciative of the inward focus he shows here. The university community and family needs to come to grips with what we allowed to happen whether willingly or unwillingly. We all had a part to play in the compromise of the principals we said were so dear, and only when we as a Tar Heel community come together can we proceed.

But that’s when you have confidence and that’s when you have courage. And right now, we don’t. We’ve lost our own confidence; we’ve lost trust by our alumni, within the community, outside of the community…We have to get comfortable with who we are again and prove to people you can do both.

We have lost trust as a family just as the national academic and athletic community has lost faith in us. The University is too busy pointing fingers and plugging holes rather than focusing on the progress it has made to insure this will not occur again. We must focus on what needs to be done to prepare all who walk onto campus for the future whether they ever play a sport.

Some of it is time. And as Larry (Fedora) indicated when we hired him, I can say all of the right things, but we’ve got to do it. So we need to show that we’re going to admit students that can be successful. We need to provide them a great education while they’re here. They need to graduate. They need to get good jobs and go on and do things.

The University will not recover until it resolves to provide an education and opportunity to every student who sets foot on campus. That may seem like a sacrifice to some, but that is the place I fell in love with 25 years ago and the one to which I thought I belonged. Thank you Bubba, for allowing me to see that place once again.

“…but at some point, we can’t sit in neutral. We’ve got to move forward.”

Photo Credit: Zach Frailey via Flickr

Matters of State

I am the last person who should be writing anything that even closely resembles celebratory talk about the Wolfpack’s convincing 35–7 rout of the Tarheels yesterday. Why? Because I’ve barely laid an eye on the Pack all season. That said, I had a lot of fun watching the game, especially in the 4th quarter with about five minutes left when I finally let my guard down a bit, cautiously optimistic that the game was a bit out of reach even for the quick-strike Tarheels. I won’t lie, I even got a little greedy, practically begging the Pack’s defense to hold on for the shutout.

That was actually the most fun I’ve had watching Pack football in a long time. Games where we execute so consistently throughout the entire 60 minutes are few and far between, especially against our arch-rival1 Tarheels. Do I think UNC put their best foot forward yesterday? No way. To be honest, I was dreading this game after watching the performance the Tarheels put up against Duke two Thursdays ago. In fact, the optimistic spin that Tarheel fans might reasonably put on this is that this was a classic hangover/trap game after beating their real rivals, and of course the Pack would come out fired up with an extra week of preparation for their “Super Bowl”. Sour grapes for sure, but that’s to be expected from the wine and cheese crowd and, quite frankly, I’d much rather have this win than whatever’s next for the Pack. Calling it our Super Bowl is probably an apt observation.

Just a quick aside on the note of rivalry. The rise of Duke’s football program under David Cutcliffe certainly won’t do State fans any favors in the not-our-rival conversation. It certainly doesn’t help that Carolina and Duke are in the same division, with their match-ups having potential head-to-head implications if they can ever sync up their relative success. And on top of all of that, you have the Victory Bell – a tangible spoil for the victor.

What does it all mean about our respective programs? Not much more than what we’ve already seen all season. Carolina has shown glimpses of great football, but they still have a long way to go to get back to where they were headed a few years ago. The Pack’s glimpses have been more rare, but it’s nice to end the regular season on such a high note and so convincingly. Hopefully that victory gave the entire team a confidence boost that will propel them into their potential bowl game and on into next season. Don’t let up. Go Pack!

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

  1. That’s right, I said it.

A Tar Heel Bred

Saturday was a big day. It is a day I will always remember, and I will tell my son about it so much, he will think he remembers. It was his first UNC basketball game and his first trip to the Dean Dome. He has been to see the Heels play football many times and even made trips to Carter-Finley and Dowdy-Fickly, but the first basketball game was always going to be more of an event. As a Tar Heel, basketball is extremely important, it is part of how we describe ourselves. When people think of UNC they think of basketball and Chapel Hill. For better or worse it is part of who we are. We love our football, baseball, and soccer, but basketball defines us.

My only experience as a father is with little boys, so I can’t vouch for the fairer sex, but it is extremely easy to brainwash your kids. You can tell them to eat dirt and as long you keep up the act, they will eat dirt and think it’s fantastic. What I don’t know is how long said brainwashing will last, though I assume a while since I have no other way to explain anyone under 40 who voted for Romney. Anyway, I have been constantly talking up the Tar Heels to my oldest son. He has been wearing gear since he was born and he even knows the fight song. I am in a bit of pickle as my lovely wife went to the vocational school in Raleigh and I am the only one in my family who attended UNC so I tread carefully. I never tell him not to root for someone or that one team is bad, but I focus solely on the good that is UNC; the well, the girls, not having to go to class. Its been easy and a whole lot of fun. Taking him to his first basketball game is a very important part of this process…

Some may ask how a kid growing up just outside of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with parents who went to ECU and worshiped at the altar of the great Jimmy V ends up a Tar Heel. I owe my inner Tar Heel to my Grandparents and Aunt. My grandfather fought in WWII and when he returned to Lumberton he had to find something to do. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he decided to head North to Chapel Hill. He spent two years in Chapel Hill before returning home to take over the family business, but the impact was profound. He spent the next 60 years watching the Tar Heels play basketball and saw the Heels win five national championships (though its unclear how much he saw of the 05 and 09 finals as he was prone to fall asleep in his chair after partaking in a martini or two.) He also spent that time making converts of my Grandmother who went to a small school in New York and my aunt who went on to earn two degrees from UNC. Somehow my dad slipped through the cracks choosing to attend school in Florida, which was home for him. By the time the family’s first grandkid arrived they were itching to pass on their Tar Heel traditions. My parents resisted as any ABC’er would, but after moving to Florida where we lived for 11 years, the pull of a home I barely knew was too much.

Passing on your love of an institution is delicate game. Push too hard and he may come to resent your passions, if you don’t emphasize it enough, he may gravitate somewhere else. My dad is convinced my boys will grow up to hate UNC since he automatically rooted against any team my grandfather cheered for. Once famously cheering against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl, which drew the great ire of his father1. I have decided to approach it with constant positive reinforcement. At the game I pumped him full of sweet and salty snacks hoping the brain will associate the Heels with that instant sense of joy. I also don’t make him watch the games, but always let him know what’s going on. This is a process and I am in it for the long haul.

My grandparents flew me up to North Carolina when I was a Freshmen in high school. My aunt took me to Chapel Hill and toured me around campus, including the Old Well, the Rathskeller, and of course the Shrunken Head. We watched the Heels lose to Clemson in football and also went to the Blue-White game. You can imagine which had the greater impact. It was Fall of 1994 and the Heels were breaking in two all-world Freshmen onto a National Championship winning team. Watching Jerry Stackhouse dunk in the warm ups insured I would be a Tar Heel for life, and explains why I still wear a nasty #42 jersey when a little good karma is needed. From that point on I was a Tar Heel, and I haven’t missed many games or Inside Carolina threads since.

We got to the game on Saturday a little late since my wife wanted to go to Spanky’s, a Chapel Hill staple and one of the few remaining restaurants from my college days. I told him how special the Dean Dome was and he commented that everything was Carolina Blue. While, he does love the Heels I must admit his immediate worry was when we were going to get some “snacks,” not the Heels 8-0 deficit to the Hokies. We got some popcorn and settled into our seats. We cheered when the Heels scored and joined in on TAR – HEEL chants. The game went into overtime and he sat patiently as I tried to explain the concept of “free basketball.” It was easy to tell he enjoyed the game, though not as much as I enjoyed being there with him.

I can’t guarantee he will be a Tar Heel, and I will be proud of him wherever he ends up. But, I have done my part and he will be a Tar Heel Bred.

  1. He later learned it was because his father had a LARGE sum of money on the game.