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Wednesday, August 3, 2011


One of the things that I enjoy about the summer evaluation period is getting the opportunity to visit and talk basketball with so many outstanding coaches.  The grind of the season makes it difficult to have some of the great conversations that can be had in the summer. 

Someone I always look forward to discussing basketball with is Andrew Calder of the University of North Carolina.  The Tar Heels have been on of the nation's elite programs and I love to talk to those who have met with great success to delve into those areas that have made them successful.  This summer when talking to Coach Calder, the conversation turned to Dean Smith and the amazing contributions he has made to the game.

It had me re-reading one of my favorite coaching books this week, "The Carolina Way," which was written by Coach Smith along with Gerald Bell and John Kilgo.  It's a tremendous book with great insight from Coach Smith as to all that was important to shaping the culture of his program. 

This book lives up to the expectations one would have from something written by Coach Smith. The chapters provide a great insight into the many reasons for the success of North Carolina basketball. The basis of the Carolina success story was the Coach Smith philosophy of playing hard, playing together, and playing smart.

“Hard meant with effort, determination, and courage; together meant unselfishly, trusting your teammates, and doing everything possible to not let them down; smart meant with good execution and poise, treating each possession as if it were the only one in the game.”

While at LSU, we came to marvel at the job done by then football coach Nick Saban who instilled in his team the philosophy of being champions in all walks of life. He never talked of victory or defeats or of championships. For the Tiger football team it was about preparing each day and then going out and dominating your opponent. Winning and losing is merely a byproduct of what you do. The same is true of the Carolina philosophy. Smith nor his assistants rarely spoke in terms of winning or losing to their team. It was his belief that when winning as a goal could actually get in the way of the ultimate success of a team.

Probably the main overriding theme of the book in terms of why North Carolina was so successful (on the court and in the classroom) was the fact that Coach Smith was a great believer in building relationships. He understood that it didn’t have nearly as much to do with X’s & O’s as it did with the human element. He says so in his description of his program which as he puts it he did not have a system but a philosophy.

“The best leaders really do care about the people entrusted to them and want to see them succeed...Caring was a major part of creating the type of environment that made things possible. I think we showed that winning and learning are compatible.”

My favorite chapter was “Practicing.” It is my philosophy that the success or lack thereof is greatly determined on the practice court. Coach Smith confirmed my feelings in the first sentence of this chapter by simply saying, “Practicing was the most important part of our North Carolina program.”

All coaches on all levels (regardless of the sport in which they coach) will greatly benefit from this chapter and the various guidelines set forth by Coach Smith. It was easy to see that a great reason for the dominance of Carolina basketball came from attention to detail and no where it is more prevalent than in their systematic approach to practice.
Chapter 7 dealt with “Recruiting The Players.” It gives great insight into the intangibles that Coach Smith and his staff looked for in developing the makeup of their team. Again with the theme of people and relationships, Coach Smith writes, “If our recruiting goal simply had been to find twelve talented basketball players, the job would have been easy...They also had to fit with the players already in our program as well as subscribe to the way we play basketball.”

Another fascinating angle of the book is that it is peppered with short stories by former Carolina players to support the Dean Smith philosophy and reveals how it helped each become not only better players but successful individuals away from the court.

The chapter on “Defining and Understanding Roles” is worth the price of the book alone as this is something that many coaches struggle with. From individual meetings and the process developed through the season and you can get a picture of why Carolina teams played with great chemistry despite being a team filled with high school All-Americans.

A tremendous thought from Coach Smith in the book on appreciation:

"It’s amazing how positively we react when we know that those close to us recognize and appreciate our work and thank us for it. Another friend, Dr. Dean Martin, a Methodist minister in Florida, once said, 'You can act yourself into a new way of thinking more easily than you can think yourself into a new way of acting.'”

This review falls well short of giving this book the justice it deserves. It is simply one of the better books I have ever read and because of what Coach Smith has shared in these pages our program will be the better for it. It is a must read for coaches on all levels.  Regardless of the level that you coach or your system of play, this book will make your program better -- that's a strong statement!