The game will miss him. Across the country, star players abandoned the college game one, two, or three years early. Some skipped it entirely. Teams violated NCAA rules, programs were suspended. Players took cars, jewelry, did drugs, shaved points. Yet there was always Dean Smith, from every November through every March, coaching the North Carolina Tar Heels, for 36 seasons icon and steward of an impeccable program.
An impeccable program that won. Smith won 879 games, more than any college coach. In the last 27 seasons, his teams won 20 or more games, another record. That last win put Carolina into its 11th Final Four. Smith won two national championships, a total that surprises only because it is not higher. He has coached 30 All-Americans, including Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Mitch Kupchak, and Billy Cunningham. Some of them left Dean early. Most of them stayed. Many became his assistants, or head coaches elsewhere. Smith was always in the Dean Dome, the capital of ACC basketball, coaching the Tar Heels.
Smith called a prized recruit on Wednesday and told him he was retiring. Said he hoped it wouldn't change the kid's mind, and reminded him that although he would no longer be coaching, he would still be around. It won't be the same. But his name will always be on the building.