The Day The World Seemed To End For Some
Thinking back to that morning I got a telephone call from a fellow Tar Heel who had arisen earlier than I had, it was very much like a call you receive when a relative or loved one dies. The voice on the other end of the line was filled with anguish as he asked "Is Coach Smith retiring?" I responded by saying I had heard nothing to that effect and he then hit me with what was in that morning's edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch. Words to the effect that Coach Smith was expected to announce his resignation (not retirement) later that day as coach of the UNC basketball team. I still didn't believe it because, even though I don't have any "inside" sources, I usually manage to hear things like this before it hits the newspapers. This time my "sources" failed me.
I tried to proceed with a normal day, but I found myself constantly thinking about the idea of a UNC basketball team without DES at the helm. It was too much to contemplate. My wife and dog knew something was up and they avoided me like the plague.
There was always the possibility that the leak was incorrect but the internet was telling me otherwise. Of course, later that day the announcement was made and the "death notice" was official. It was strange that I kept reacting to the announcement like a death and I remember going through the same stages of grief that one experiences when a loved one passes. I thought of all the good times, the last minute victories, the national attention, the pride that I felt when the media would refer to the Carolina basketball program as the model for other institutions to emulate. I also had some feelings of guilt because, like many others, there had been times when I wondered if the game had passed Coach Smith by. I tried to erase the negative thoughts from my mind as I tried to adjust to the first few hours without the coach. I wanted to grieve and I didn't want anyone to interfere with my doing so.
I saw my friend who had called me with the news several days later and he made me feel a little better about things because he was in much worse shape than I was. I spent quite a bit of energy trying to convince him that it wasn't the "end of the world", things were going to be all right and that Carolina would continue to be a basketball power. He didn't completely buy what I was telling him, but it made me feel better trying to pull him out of his depression.
In moving around on the various message boards at the time, I found numerous expressions of gratitude and yes, grief over Coach Smith's stepping down One poster quoted a poem by W.H. Auden with a few word changes to express himself, and I will never forget the effect it had on me. The poem reads as follows:
He was my North, my South, my East, my West , My working week and my Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song, I thought that Coach would coach us forever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one, Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun, Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods; For nothing now can ever come to any good.
After a few days, my depression began to subside and I decided to call a friend of mine who is not a UNC fan but who has a great deal of respect for Coach Smith. I told him I had written the poem and read it to him on the telephone. He later confessed to me that he had remarked to his wife after we talked that he was worried about me. I then confessed to him that I hadn't written the poem. Neither one of us laughed.
Looking back on what happened, it seems like a dream now. When it happened, it seemed more like a nightmare.
I would like to thank Coach Smith for all he did to make me proud that I graduated from UNC. Matt Doherty is doing a good job as our new head coach, but there will always be a warm spot in my heart for the man who established the basketball program at UNC and maintained it for so many years.
Enjoy your "retirement", coach. You deserve it and hey, take it from someone who knows. It ain't all that bad.