North Carolina

UNC's Dean Smith awarded Medal of Freedom

Posted November 19, 2013
Updated November 20, 2013

Former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill head basketball coach Dean Smith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Wednesday during a ceremony at the White House. 

President Barack Obama noted Smith's important contributions to the game of basketball in Wednesday's ceremony, but he also pointed to Smith's efforts to integrate college basketball and a restaurant in Chapel Hill. 

"Even as he won 78 percent of his games, he graduated 96 percent of his players," Obama said. "He is the first coach to use multiple defenses in a game. He was the pioneer who popularized the idea of pointing to a passer. After a basket, players should point to the teammate who passed them the ball." Gravley: Smith honored with Medal of Freedom Gravley: Smith honored with Medal of Freedom

Smith was not in attendance Wednesday due to his health. His wife, Dr. Linnea Smith, long-time coaching assistant Bill Guthridge and current UNC head coach Roy Williams accepted the award on his behalf. 

"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 neighborhood in Chapel Hill. That's the kind of character he represented on and off the court."

"This is an extraordinary honor," Smith’s family said in a statement. "We were touched by those who asked for the recognition and by the President’s decision to give an award to Dean for his work both on and off the court."

Smith retired in 1997 as the all-time winningest coach in men’s college basketball history with 879 victories – all of them with UNC. He currently sits fourth on that list having been passed by Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bobby Knight.

"I’m so proud of Coach Smith, happy for his family and friends and appreciative to President Obama for this just recognition," said current UNC head coach Roy Williams.

The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the nation and, according to the White House, is given to individuals "who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

Smith won 13 ACC championships and two national championships with the Tar Heels and guided Team USA to an Olympic Gold Medal in 1976.

Smith taught beyond the court

Over the years, the Hall of Famer has been heralded just as much for his work off of the basketball court as on.

Smith was a key figure in advocating for civil rights and recruited the first African-American scholarship athlete, Charlie Scott, in UNC’s history.

UNC gave Smith the inaugural Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement for his contributions in "teaching beyond the classroom." He has been named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, awarded two honorary doctorates and been presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs.

In 2010, Smith’s family revealed that he is suffering from a neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory.

Obama awarded 16 people with the honor on Wednesday, including Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks.

Other notables included former President Bill Clinton, country music singer Loretta Lynn, astronaut Sally Ride and TV personality Oprah Winfrey.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • blueridgegrass Nov 21, 9:57 p.m.

    This statement equates to your IQ (probably around a - 50)

  • millerbri66 Nov 21, 4:29 p.m.


    The only thing he ever did that other coaches did sooner or better was have a Wet Bar... View More

    — Posted by masontom56

    Such a shame they don't teach "class" at State.

  • millerbri66 Nov 21, 4:06 p.m.

    Love to see all the congrats comments from classy Duke fans.

    If this article was about Coach K,... View More

    — Posted by BlueDeviIs00

    Me too! As for the back pain issue, I'm not part of that as I suffer from debillating back pain... View More

    — Posted by 75Tarheel

    I agree, but, as a Carolina fan, I have no problems whatsoever giving Coach K the massive props he deserves. I don't have to like him to respect him.

  • millerbri66 Nov 21, 3:48 p.m.

    I don't know maybe being the first one to break the color barrier in the ACC and bring in African American athletes. Do your research by jhk0704

    please stop telling this lie. Dean did not bring the first african american athlete into acc basketball. Nor the second or third, do some research yourself.

    first two were at Maryland, third at Duke. woodsman12169

    As a Carolina fan, I agree with woodsman on this one. Dean broke the color barrier at UNC, not in the ACC.

  • masontom56 Nov 21, 2:26 p.m.


    The only thing he ever did that other coaches did sooner or better was have a Wet Bar installed in his office in the Dean Dome.....a no no under NC State Law.

  • 75Tarheel Nov 21, 10:16 a.m.

    Love to see all the congrats comments from classy Duke fans.

    If this article was about Coach K,... View More

    — Posted by BlueDeviIs00

    Me too! As for the back pain issue, I'm not part of that as I suffer from debillating back pain but work everyday. BUT, I doubt your fanbase is any classier than ours nor bigger. You however, have made several classy comments as have other Duke fans. Thanks.

  • 75Tarheel Nov 21, 10:09 a.m.

    Give me a break. Dean never graduated 96% of his lettermen. Plus Obama just wanted his picture... View More

    — Posted by UNCle

    The NCAA record books are official. 96% graduation rate. Prove otherwise.

  • 75Tarheel Nov 21, 10:06 a.m.

    You are a disgrace. Coach Smith was involved int eh integration of sports in the ACC. He stood... View More

    — Posted by Honesty first

    I know him first hand, most of what you just posted is just PR stuff and really didnt happen.

    — Posted by heelgrad1978

    Sure you do. Loser.

    — Posted by vile garbage

    LOL - You live in Henderson? And you call someone loser? While I am sure there are some good... View More

    — Posted by buster102007

    Well said. It applies to the others who have no idea who Dean Smith the person is. All they know about him is he is one of the greatest Coaches who ever coached the game of basketball.

    And the great thing is your opinions mean squat. Coach Smith deserved the honor, he has the honor and there's nothing you can do about it. Just like the Panther score 24-20 over the Patsies.

    Congratulations to Coach Smith and his family!! Well deserved!!

  • dooksucks 11 Nov 21, 9:08 a.m.

    NC State fans show their classlessness once again:

  • BlueDeviIs00 Nov 21, 8:59 a.m.

    Love to see all the congrats comments from classy Duke fans.

    If this article was about Coach K, it would be littered with "back pain" comments and otherwise crude remarks.

    Glad to know I'm a part of a bigger, classier fanbase.

    Congrats again Dean!




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