The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday May 20th

Family writes letter concerning Dean Smith's health

Hints at memory loss

On Oct. 9, 1997, Dean Smith surprised everyone when he retired as head coach of the North Carolina basketball team.

On Saturday, a letter from Smith’s family concerning his health came as no surprise.

The legendary coach who led UNC to two national championships and put the University on the map as a basketball school has memory loss at age 79.

His condition has not been a secret for those in Chapel Hill, but is usually only whispered out of respect for the man who is the quintessential coach for countless former, current and future players and coaches.

Smith’s memory has always been a talking point — but more recently it’s been for another reason.

“…our dad may not remember quite like he used to,” the letter reads (the letter is reprinted at the bottom). “It’s a stark contrast, because he is widely known for remembering a name, a place, a game, a story — it’s what made other people feel like they were special, because our dad remembered everything.”

The letter details Smith’s memory loss as a “progressive neurocognitive disorder.”

The release from the family comes almost two weeks after a
Fayetteville Observer article that made the murmurs of his condition more than just campfire talk.

After the Observer’s Dan Wiederer wrote the story, author John Feinstein posted a blog describing his relationship with Smith while attempting to write a biography on the coach.

Feinstein dropped his attempts at the book when Smith’s health became too much of an issue to complete it.

Smith’s last public appearance came at UNC’s Celebration of a Century in February.

He did not travel to Detroit for UNC’s 2009 national championship game, likely due to health reasons, but his family stated that “he insists on watching all Carolina basketball games on television and cheers as hard as he can for Coach (Roy) Williams and the team.”

Smith became the head coach in 1961, coaching for 36 years and accumulating a then-record 879 wins.

He announced his immediate retirement at a press conference just nine days before the start of practice for the 1997-98 season.

“He is the consummate teacher, he is the paragon of integrity,” then UNC chancellor Michael Hooker said at the press conference, which was reported by the Daily Tar Heel on Oct. 10, 1997.

“I told him as we were coming down the stairs that I don’t think any person has ever done as much for his university in the history of higher education as Dean Smith has done for Carolina.”

17 July 2010

From the Family of Dean E. Smith

Our dad is almost eighty years old, so it’s expected that he might show signs of aging. After spending an entire lifetime without a visit to the hospital except to see players and friends, he had to undergo two procedures in the past three years: a knee replacement surgery and a repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. But what other people may have noticed – and what has been speculated about recently in the media – is that our dad may not remember quite like he used to. It’s a stark contrast, because he is widely known for remembering a name, a place, a game, a story – it’s what made other people feel like they were special, because our dad remembered everything.

Coach Smith wanted to keep his professional and personal life separate. But as we all know, the personal and professional life can sometimes overlap, and we understand that many fans, former players, and friends are concerned about his well-being. In trying to balance our dad’s wishes and the genuine concern so many people have for Coach Smith, we want to update you about his health, but ask that you respect his privacy. Our dad has a progressive neurocognitive disorder which affects his memory. So now, he may not immediately recall the name of every former player from his many years in coaching, but that does not diminish what those players meant to him or how much he cares about them. He still remembers the words of a hymn or a jazz standard, but may not feel up to going to a concert. He still plays golf, though usually only for nine holes instead of eighteen. He still attends some sporting events –you might see him in the stands at his grandson’s baseball game. He has difficulty traveling long distances to see the Heels on the road, but he insists on watching all Carolina basketball games on television and cheers as hard as he can for Coach Williams and the team.

Although some of the ways he experiences daily life have changed, he still cherishes his many relationships with Carolina basketball, his family and his friends.

Throughout his career, he has always preferred the spotlight be on the Carolina basketball program and the University, rather than himself. We hope that you will understand and respect his wishes. Thank you for your consideration and well wishes for our dad.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


Comments

The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for March 7, 2022

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive