Wallace L. Daniel Jr.: Dean Of College Of Arts And Sciences, The Ralph L. And Bessie Mae Lynn Professor Of History

August 24, 2004

Q: If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be and what would you do?

Wallace Daniel

I would choose to be Dean Smith, the legendary basketball coach of my alma mater. Having grown up in North Carolina, where basketball holds the lofty place that football does in Texas, I could not but admire the qualities he nurtured, the vision of excellence he projected and the personal integrity he embraced. His approach, on and off the court, was a consistent care for people, for standards and for the notion that his players were, foremost, students. He was a master not only of the technicalities of basketball, but of the lessons of life.
Coach Smith built a foundation, created a framework and set standards that would lead to a dynamic, solid, team-oriented and renowned program. This success did not happen overnight, but when it did, the pursuit of excellence with integrity would become a distinguishing mark. He taught his players that education was much more important than basketball.
I have read Dean Smith's books, listened to his lectures, seen him coach and watched carefully as he integrated his faith with his life -- the way he treated people, reached out to those who were suffering and remained dedicated to his own highest principles. If I could be Coach Smith for a day, I would bring back all the great players whom I had been privileged to recruit -- from Larry Miller to Charles Scott to Michael Jordan. I would enjoy their company, relive the highlights, the low moments, the struggles and the triumphs -- the miracle shots and the crushing defeats. I also would learn from these men what dedication and loyalty truly mean, how a family of individuals is created and how talented people learn to subordinate the self to some larger goal, some greater purpose.
Dean Smith nurtured those qualities. If I could spend a day in his shoes, I would learn better how these qualities are developed. Good leaders, it often is said, have two primary characteristics: humility and good communication skills. Coach Smith has such characteristics in abundance. As one of his former players recently has written, great leaders "have a passion to succeed, but they don't believe winning or losing defines their worth as human beings." That is a viewpoint all too rarely seen in our society.