Scott Fowler

Tar Heel players: $200 final gift was ‘classic Dean Smith’

Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith left $200 to his each of his former lettermen.
Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith left $200 to his each of his former lettermen. RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

Dozens of University of North Carolina basketball lettermen have been surprised this week by a letter telling them that their former coach, Dean Smith, left each of them $200.

The letter – as well as a $200 check – both came in the same envelope from a Charlotte accountant who is also the trustee of the Dean E. Smith Revocable Trust. The letter notes that Smith wanted each player to “enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”

Said Richard Vinroot, who played for Smith in the 1960s before later serving as Charlotte’s mayor: “My reaction when I opened it was, ‘Good gosh! That was totally unnecessary.’ But it was classic Coach Smith. It was just like the personal Christmas notes that we got every year from Coach Smith – every single one of us – for as long as he could write them.”

Bobby Jones, a star under Smith 40 years ago, received his letter earlier this week. “My wife was almost in tears,” Jones said. “But that is Coach Smith. It’s just one more indicator of the kind of person he was.”

Jones took Smith’s words seriously.

“I always tried to do what Coach Smith said,” Jones said, “and to do it quickly.” He planned to take his wife out Thursday night for a nice dinner.

Vinroot laughed when he heard that. “Bobby and his wife deserve that dinner,” said Vinroot, who scored a single point in an undistinguished basketball career at North Carolina. “I don’t. Two hundred dollars is a serious overcompensation for the way I played basketball. We’re going to donate the money to Binkley Baptist Church (Smith’s home church for decades) in Chapel Hill.”

Every varsity basketball letterman during Smith’s coaching reign at UNC from 1961-97 is getting a letter. From Michael Jordan to Phil Ford to James Worthy to Vinroot, they all will receive the same $200 from Smith, who died Feb. 7.

The letter is from certified public accountant Tim Breedlove of Charlotte, who is also the trustee of the Dean E. Smith Revocable Trust and worked with Smith on his estate planning. Breedlove mailed letters to every letterman under Smith on Monday – about 180 of them altogether, he said. That means Smith’s gesture was worth about $36,000 in cash – but much more in its symbolism.

Breedlove’s letter said that Smith wanted to reach out to all his lettermen, because “each player was important and special to Coach Smith.”

“Accordingly,” Breedlove wrote, “Coach directed that following his passing each letterman be sent a two hundred dollar ($200.00) check with the message ‘enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Smith.’”

“Got it yesterday,” Buzz Peterson texted when I asked him about it. “Unbelievable!”

Some of Smith’s former players had yet to receive the letter for various reasons. David Chadwick, a well-known pastor in Charlotte, was in Iowa on Thursday attending his son’s NCAA swim meet.

“Good heavenly day,” Chadwick said when I told him what would be waiting for him in the mailbox when he returned to Charlotte. “What a man Coach Smith was. He just keeps on giving.”

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments