Eight days after the Fayetteville Observer revealed that Dean Smith is slowly losing his famous memory, author John Feinstein felt the time was right to offer his observations of the legendary North Carolina coach's declining health.
Feinstein spent a considerable amount of time interviewing Smith last August for a biography he planned to write about the coaching icon. He eventually scrapped plans for the book because of the strain it was putting on Smith's health, but didn't write about the coach's memory loss because he felt he'd only witnessed it because of Smith's willingness to cooperate on the biography.
The sessions I had with him in August were difficult — more difficult, to be honest, than I anticipated. There were still moments when he was classic Dean. His description of the night he met his first wife, Ann, was hysterical: "It was the graduation dance. She came with a football player I didn't like. The guy was really cocky. I decided to ask her to dance and we hit it off right away."
Typical Dean; his competitiveness led him to the altar.
But there were other moments when he simply couldn't remember things. When I asked him to talk about Bob Spear, his first boss at the Air Force Academy, he said, "you tell me about him. Maybe it will come back."
Roy Williams, Bill Guthridge and other figures in Smith's life had originally encouraged Feinstein to write the biography, but he decided not to continue out of fear of pushing the envelope too far.
I thought briefly about suggesting that I do the project without interviewing Dean any further. Given all the past interviews I had done with him, if I had the cooperation of everyone else involved, I could still write the book. But that didn’t feel right: the agreement Dean and I had was to work together on the book. It was what I had always wanted to do. Going forward with him only being peripherally involved felt wrong.
It's admirable that Feinstein would be so cautious about Smith's health, but it would also be great if he reconsidered and wrote the book with the legendary coach only peripherally involved.
Smith's life story is one that should be preserved. And a college basketball historian like Feinstein is an ideal candidate to tell it.