Raleigh, N.C. Dean Smith still plays golf, still pops into his campus office and still savors watching the North Carolina program he led for more than three decades take the court under Roy Williams’ direction.
Yet his family also says that the Hall of Fame coach and former Kansas University player is also losing some of the remarkable memory that could recall even the smallest details of the past.
Smith’s family sent a letter to former players and coaches Saturday, discussing the 79-year-old Hall of Famer’s health after generally declining to comment for privacy reasons. Smith’s condition was described as a “progressive neurocognitive disorder that affects his memory.”
“He may not immediately recall the name of every former player from his many years of coaching, but that does not diminish what those players meant to him or how much he cares about them,” the letter said. “He still remembers the words of a hymn or a jazz standard, but may not feel up to going to a concert. He still plays golf, though usually only for nine holes instead of 18.”
Smith had largely kept a low profile in retirement, consistent with his habit of trying to deflect credit to his players while never seeming comfortable with the attention that followed him during the peak of his coaching years. He has maintained an office in Chapel Hill, frequently coming in to meet with former players, sign autographs or return fan mail.
Smith’s health became a question after The Fayetteville Observer recently reported he had occasional memory loss.