RALEIGH — Bill Guthridge never really wanted to be the head basketball coach at North Carolina.
He spent 30 years as an assistant to Dean Smith and wanted him to continue to run the program, teach players, win games. Every time Smith would say the time probably had come to retire during the 1990s, Guthridge would talk him out of it.
“The last 10 years or so were tough on coach Smith with all the clinics and all-star games and everything he had to do,” Guthridge said Wednesday. “He’d say he was tired and tell me to get ready, and I’d tell him he’d be OK. But in 1997 he said it was time for me to take over.”
Just like that, Guthridge was the Tar Heels’ head coach. It was a week before the start of practice and Guthridge was in charge.
“I really wanted Dean Smith to coach until he was 100 if he wanted to,” Guthridge said. “And we had great team that year. But he demanded I do it.”
In three seasons, Guthridge’s Tar Heels won 80 games. They went to two Final Fours.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Guthridge said. “I wish we could have won the national championship, but we didn’t.”
Smith, who won 879 games and two NCAA titles at UNC, was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1981. Guthridge now joins the Hall as a member of the class of 2013 and will be inducted Thursday night.
“It’s a nice honor and I was surprised I was asked,” Guthridge said.
After his third season as head coach, Guthridge said he was worn out. His wife, he said, told him it was time to quit. He joined Smith in retirement in 2000.
At 75, he doesn’t move as quickly as he once did but still has a quick wit and keen mind.