Dean Smith’s influence on basketball reached everywhere, even Minnesota

by Jack Satzinger

The college basketball world woke up to sad news Sunday as legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith, 83, died Saturday night.

Smith won 879 games, the fourth-most in history, and took the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours. He was progressive with race relations. He coached arguably the best player of all time in Michael Jordan.

His influence on basketball reached everywhere — even Minnesota.

Minnesota’s executive associate athletics director, Mike Ellis, was a student manager for Smith’s teams at North Carolina from 1985-1988. Ellis went on to be a longtime assistant coach at VCU before switching to administration and launching Villa 7, a college basketball networking program that helped he and Norwood Teague hire Shaka Smart and Richard Pitino.

I sat down with Ellis for this story last summer. In his eyes, Smith was the best college basketball coach of all time.

“Coach Smith was hugely responsible for my ability to get into the profession. …He would tell me ‘I don’t want to hear the rough waters. Tell me when the ship comes in,’” Ellis said at the time. “People know there’s a struggle to getting things done, but they just want to know when you get it done.”