Ex-North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge dead at 77

The Dagger

Three months after the passing of one of college basketball's coaching icons, the man who worked by his side for three decades has also died.

Bill Guthridge, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith's longtime assistant and eventual successor, died Tuesday night at age 77. North Carolina confirmed the news Wednesday morning.  

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Guthridge and Smith were nearly lifelong friends who grew up 90 minutes apart from one another in Kansas. Their coaching careers took them to different places for awhile until 1967 when Smith asked Guthridge to leave his alma mater Kansas State and come work for him as an assistant coach at North Carolina.

Over the next 30 years, Guthridge remained by Smith's side, turning down head coaching opportunities at Arkansas and Penn State to stay at North Carolina. He helped Smith lead the Tar Heels to 30 seasons of 20 or more wins, 11 Final Fours and two national championships, the first in 1982 and the second in 1993.

When Smith retired unexpectedly in 1997, he pushed for North Carolina to reward Guthridge for his loyalty and promote him to head coach. Guthridge coached the Tar Heels for three seasons before stepping aside, earning Naismith coach of the year honors in 1998 and leading North Carolina to Final Four appearances in 1998 and 2000.

One of Guthridge's most significant feats as an assistant coach was discovering a skinny shooting guard from Wilmington named Mike Jordan. Guthridge discovered Jordan before any other ACC program thanks to a tip from the athletic director in his county.

"When I first saw him, he jumped out at me because of his athleticism and competitiveness," then-North Guthridge told Yahoo Sports in 2012. "I thought we should recruit him, but I didn't know how good he would be."

Jordan soon became North Carolina's top priority after he dominated Smith's basketball camp the summer before his senior year. Guthridge and Smith out-recruited the likes of Maryland, South Carolina, Duke and NC State after other schools became aware of Jordan's talent when he emerged as the best player at the prestigious Five-Star Camp in Pittsburgh later that summer.

Though Jordan earned ACC freshman of the year honors and sank the game-winning shot in the national championship game his first season with the Tar Heels, it wasn't until the start of his second season that Guthridge realized he might be coaching one of the best ever.

"We couldn't believe how good he was as a sophomore," Guthridge recalled. "We ran a drill in practice where players went one-on-one against each other. There was nobody who could stop Michael and Michael could stop everyone. That was really something then."

Guthridge kept a small office next to Smith's at the Smith Center in retirement and was a regular at North Carolina games until health problems began to take a toll. His wife told the Raleigh News & Observer earlier this year that her husband had been diagnosed with a heart condition five or six years earlier and that his memory was rapidly fading. 

Perhaps it's fitting that Guthridge's death came so soon after Smith's. They were inseparable for decades at North Carolina, so now Guthridge is following Smith once more.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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