Dean Smith, former Carolina men’s basketball coach, and a longtime member of the UNC School of Social Work’s Board of Advisors, will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. It is presented to those who have “made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Smith is one of 16 individuals named by President Obama today in a group that includes President Bill Clinton, Chicago Cub Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, Senators Daniel Inouye and Richard Lugar, entertainers Loretta Lynn and Oprah Winfrey and astronaut Sally Ride.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Executive Order signed by President John F. Kennedy establishing the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President Obama says, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their lives to enriching ours. This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”
Smith, 82, led the Tar Heels to 879 wins and two NCAA championships in a 36-year head coaching career that spanned from 1961 to 1997. At the time of his retirement following the 1997 Final Four, Smith held the record for most coaching wins by a Division I men’s basketball coach.
“This is an extraordinary honor,” says Coach Smith’s family. “We were touched by those who asked for the recognition and by the President’s decision to give an award to Dean for his work both on and off the court. We know he would be humbled to be in the company of President Clinton, United States senators, scientists, entertainers, the great Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and the other distinguished Americans who are receiving the award. We also know he would take this as an opportunity to recognize all the young men who played for him and the assistant coaches who worked with him, as well as the University. Again, this medal is a tremendous honor.”
A champion of civil rights, human rights and academic achievement in addition to being one of the premier basketball coaches in American sports history, Smith joins former UCLA coach John Wooden as the second college men’s basketball coach to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“I’m so proud of Coach Smith, happy for his family and friends and appreciative to President Obama for this just recognition,” said Carolina head coach Roy Williams. “Coach Smith made enormous contributions not only to basketball, but he built a first-class program that positively impacted our society and community in many, many ways. Everyone who loves college and ACC basketball and the University of North Carolina is indebted to him. But more than basketball, it was his social conscience that has left even greater marks on our society and will be paying dividends for generations.”