‘One of the greatest coaches’
Dean Smith will “forever stand as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday as Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“Dean E. Smith spent 36 seasons taking college basketball to new heights,” President Barack Obama said during the ceremony at the White House. “As head coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he led his team to 11 Final Fours, two national titles, and 879 victories, retiring as the winningest men's college basketball coach in history.
Dean Smith brought the same commitment to supporting his players off the court. He helped more than 96 percent of his lettermen graduate, and in an era of deep division, he taught players to overcome bigotry with courage and compassion."
Smith, who is suffering from a progressive neurocognitive disorder, was unable to attend. Dr. Linnea Smith accepted the medal from Obama on her husband’s behalf. Current UNC coach Roy Williams and Smith’s longtime assistant, Bill Guthridge, also attended the ceremony.
“While Coach Smith couldn't join us today due to an illness he is facing with extraordinary courage, we also honor his courage in helping to change our country,” Obama said. “He recruited the first black scholarship athlete to North Carolina and helped integrate a restaurant and a neighborhood in Chapel Hill. That's the kind of character he represented on and off the court.”
Smith became the third coach to receive the Medal of Freedom, joining John Wooden and Pat Summitt. The 16 recipients this year also included Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Ernie Banks.
"These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us,” Obama said. “I could not be more happy and more honored to participate in this ceremony here today.”