Pelicans assistant Dave Hanners remembers Dean Smith

Hanners played for and coached with North Carolina legend New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Dave Hanners was interviewed on Monday's Black and Blue Report about legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, who died this past weekend. Below is a transcript of that interview with host Sean Kelley. || Full episode: Black & Blue Report - February 9, 2015

Dave Hanners here with us today on the podcast for Pelicans and Saints fans. Dave Hanners is one of our treasured assistants on the Pelicans coaching staff under head coach Monty Williams. He’s been a good friend and a great storyteller, but unfortunately I guess it’s under the wrong kind of circumstances that we have you on today, Coach Hanners – remembering your friend and your mentor, Dean Smith.

“Yes, it is a sad day for all of the guys that played for Coach Smith. Like I’ve said before, it’s also a great day because we get to revel in Coach Smith’s greatness and people praise him and talk about him, so it’s a wonderful time also.”

Is it also wonderful now that coach can be laid to rest. This has been a difficult last couple of years I know for Coach, but for all of you who have known him in a much different way.

“Yes and that’s a great point. It has been three years since I’ve been to Chapel Hill to see Coach Smith. The reason is simple. The last time I went I know I put him in a not comfortable position of not being fully aware of who I was and why I was important and to him and you could see it. I just didn’t think it was worth putting him in that position to do that again and I think a lot of the players felt that way.”

Dave do you remember what you all talked about on your last visit?

“Golf, believe it or not. We always talked about Larry Brown. How Coach was doing because at that point, the last time I was there, I had just completed working with Larry Brown and so he always asked how Larry was doing. He always wanted to know about golf and if I was still playing. That was one of his favorite passions in life – golf. He asked me about that and of course he always asked about my parents. He always asked about my love life and how Michaela was doing, so his memory of course was fading a little bit at that point but not to the degree that he didn’t remember certain things.”

Coach, we were just talking about Dean Smith literally days ago and you were sharing with me the story of how he never forgot anybody’s name. He’d meet you one time, you’d said, and then next thing you know you’d run into him and not be expecting it and he’d ask you about how things were going. It’s amazing how many great stories are being told about Coach Smith. Everybody seems to be having their own unique stories. It’s not the same six stories being retold – it’s hundreds and hundreds of different stories.

“Talking about his memory – when I went back as an assistant coach in the ‘89 season, he had an idea that he wanted to give me a project to do for him and it was to find all of the players that had played for him in the ’61, ’62, ’63 seasons – their best three games and take them from the old reel-to-reel to VHS and send them to them as Christmas gifts. So I was in the middle of that project when he walked into the film room and noticed the game on the monitors and started talking about the game. He said, ‘oh, I remember this. We were playing Notre Dame in The Garden in ’62 and it was in March,’ and he said, ‘watch this next play, Yogi Poteet going to catch the ball at the elbow and give a backdoor pass to Billy Cunningham.’ And that happened and then he said the next time they reversed it and (Billy) Cunningham made the pass to Yogi (Poteet) and sure enough that happened. He went on the talk about two or three more plays that would come – in succession and so he said, ‘you’re doing a great job, young man. Keep it up.’ And I said to coach, because he was leaving, I said, ‘wait, Coach, when did you watch this game last?’ This was ’89 and the game was ’62 and he said, ‘well I know we graded it the next morning.’ So he hadn’t seen the film in 27 years and he could still remember it verbatim.”

That is unbelievable.

“My reaction, Sean, was I’m never going to be like that. Maybe I should quit now.”

But that’s why you go to 11 Final Fours, I guess. That’s why you get the players that Coach was able to get to Chapel Hill. Is it that genius or was there more to it? Was there a charm on top of it? What was that ‘it’ thing, coach, that you’ll remember most?

“Sincerity, I think. When I was a young boy growing up in Columbus, Ohio I think I dreamed about being a Buckeye, playing at Ohio State, but going through the recruiting process, Coach Smith was without a doubt the most sincere and maybe the most believable and man of integrity of all the people I dealt with. I just knew that what he was telling me was the truth and the picture that he painted was the way it was going to be. With everyone else I just didn’t get that trueness, that it was not made up, that it was not fabricated. I thought he was speaking from his heart about the way things were and that was part of his greatness. I’ll tell you another story that kind of backs it up. He would never over recruit, he would never tell you that you were going to start, so he would never do any those promises because he thought it was unfair to the current players and it would not make you a better person in the end. We had a young man on our team named Ed Geth, who was from the Virginia area. His high school coach had worked camp for years and so we took Ed Geth and we made the promise to Ed that we wouldn’t recruit anyone that next year in his position. Well Joe Smith called and said he was desperate to come to North Carolina and really wanted to come to UNC and play for Coach Smith. Coach Smith told him he loved him as a player and he was a great person and he will have a wonderful career but he couldn’t play at North Carolina because we made a promise to Ed Geth. Ed never played, he was a backup his entire career, or a third string guard but because Coach Smith made that commitment to him, he stuck by it, even when it wasn’t maybe good for him personally.”

Did Ed ever find out that he turned down Joe? Because Coach seems to strike me as the kind of guy that does things for you and you didn’t even know it.

“Absolutely not would he have ever told Ed that. He would have never told Ed Geth that because, again, he wouldn’t have wanted Ed to feel bad.”

Dave Hanner with us here on the Black and Blue Report – played for, coached with Dean Smith and a member of the Pelicans coaching staff. Dave, one of my criticisms of college basketball when I left it and it still goes on today to some extent – there are some coaches around the country who almost act as if they’re little emperors of these college basketball kingdoms. Coach Smith was not that way, yet he probably had every credential if he wanted to be that kind of a person, he could have. What was it about him that was able to avoid that ego-culture, if you will?

“I think it was his upbringing. His parents instilled a great deal of humility in him and he just didn’t believe it taking praise for himself. There were no pictures of him in the office. There was one picture that was of him and the four starters from the ’82 championship team that were coming back. He distained anyone praising him over the players. He always had the famous quote that, ‘players win games, coaches lose games.’ He really believed that – all the credit he thought should go to the players. In that frame of humility, he didn’t like to put, like when you walked in the basketball office in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you wouldn’t just see Michael Jordan in a single shot, anywhere because he thought how does Mitch Kupchak feel about that or how does James Worthy feel about that if he saw just that picture of Michael and not pictures of themselves, so he only put team pictures up. Again, because he thought it sent the wrong message and formed the wrong ideals and values for the team. Again, he took it to the extreme with himself. If you watch him in any championship celebration, it was hard to find him.”

Were you telling me the story about him driving a car or him telling you how to drive a car because if I remember correctly, it seemed like some of your best stories were away from the basketball floor with him.

“Well, there was the time when we would play at Virginia. We didn’t fly, we took the bus, but he wanted to work but he didn’t want to work on the bus so a lot of times he’d go separately. So he would drive himself to the game maybe then maybe he’d want to watch the game on the way back, so one of the assistants – myself or Randy Wiel would drive the car back while he would sit in the back with the VCR and a little monitor and he would watch the game. I just remember one time when I was driving back, just about 10 or 15 minutes outside of Charlottesville, and he asked me upfront, he said, ‘coach, why are you going so slow?’ I looked down and I was going about 68 (miles per hour), but he was just one of those guys that wanted to get somewhere. If you were going slowly, he would tell you to move it on down the road a little bit.”

Oh no – while he’s watching film?

“While he was watching film.”

Unbelievable. Dave, when you think about his legacy – and a lot can be said again all over with his passing, whether it’s Charlie Scott or 11 Final Fours, or the fact that he stayed on the one campus for his entire coaching career. What will be the mark left on college basketball or even basketball the most by Dean Smith?

“Well I think his pervasive pursuit for excellence across every field that there is that pertains to coaching at the college level. He wasn’t good at one thing, he was good at everything. An issue would come up about a player. Maybe not in trouble, but something that went against the way the group normally functioned. The way they would handle it with the player and the parents – you could get the greatest psychologist and the greatest doctors in a room together and when it was all said and done, they’d come out with an answer that he’d already given them. He was that way with the X and Os. He was that way with the players, individually. He always had this rule that during the season, every decision made by the coaching staff and the university was made by what was best for the team but the day the season ended, every decision by the coaching staff and the university was geared toward what was best for the individual. That’s why so many of his guys left early because when he contacted Mitch Kupchak, Donnie Walsh, and the guys in the NBA would say you’re going to be a number eight to number 10 pick and that money you’d never recover if you didn’t go, he’d advise them to go. I just think his genius and excellence was not about one thing. Ninety-six percent of his players graduated because he had great help for them and he had great insight into how many classes they could take each semester and how each kid was different. He just was a complete coach, more so more than anyone I think I’ll ever encounter.”

Dave, is there a phrase or a saying that you yourself use now and maybe it was almost subconsciously buried into your brain by Dean Smith?

“Well I don’t think I could pinpoint one, Sean, because everything that I think about in basketball really comes from him. I’m not saying I’m stupid and I don’t have any original thoughts, but everything that he told me was right about basketball and about life so it’s hard to come up with one single thing. I will say this – I think one thing that all former players will agree on, he always had a thought for the day on the top of the practice plan. It was rarely about basketball and if it was about basketball, it was about how that related outside of basketball and just in general injustice is a threat to justice everywhere.”

That kind of fits him, doesn’t it?

“It does. He researched his quotes. He didn’t put anything on that practice plan that he didn’t think was relevant and really tailor made for our team and for young men growing up. There was a different one every day and there were some that were revisited after a while. All of the thoughts, they really told you how to live your life, how to be a good person, and as it turned out for me; how to be a better basketball coach. There was a lot of dealing with the team and different personalities. You never criticize someone until you walked in their moccasins for two full moons and then you had to do research when two full moons are because nobody knew. He made you research that stuff, but I think the quotes he chose on those days for practice may stick with me as much as anything he would have said to us outside because he put so much thought into those.”

Well I know it’s an emotional time, Dave, for you and the Carolina basketball family. I can’t thank you enough for kind of helping us learn a little more about Coach today and sharing some more stories. All the best tonight and I hope you get a chance to head back to Chapel Hill during some of these remembrances over the next two weeks. We certainly love hearing the stories and I hope they’ll continue as we get to converse on the side of the floor from time-to-time but I appreciate you time her today Dave.

“Sean, thank you so much and thank you for having an interest in helping others to see what Coach Smith was all about.”

No doubt. That’s a man I want to share as much as I can even though I didn’t know him directly.