Thursday, July 15, 2010

Feinstein book with Dean Smith canceled due to coach’s memory issues

Last week, Capital Sports’ Dane Huffman talked about former UNC coach Dean Smith’s fading memory and the poignant story about it that appeared in the Fayetteville Observer.

After the story broke, author John Feinstein wrote a column about how he didn’t want to break that story but now he gives his insight into Coach Smith’s health issues.

Feinstein was working on a book with and about Coach Smith. “The agreement Dean and I had was to work together on the book,” Feinstein wrote. “It was what I had always wanted to do. Going forward with him only being peripherally involved felt wrong. So, regretfully, I decided not to go forward.”

Because Coach Smith had not been very visible during the Centennial Celebration of UNC basketball, I suspected something was up. During last season, I heard the rumors. It wasn’t until an April conversation I had with Woody Durham, the voice of the Tar Heels, that the fears were confirmed and I found out about the extent of Coach Smith’s health problems.

Because I was interviewing Woody Durham about something else and I considered that part of the conversation personal, I didn’t really think about trying to “break” the story. Plus, while my nature was always to break stories, this is one story I hoped that Dean Smith’s family and the basketball family would break when they felt it was time.

To read more of my thoughts on the topic, please go to the comments section of this entry.

1 comment:

  1. I owe Coach Smith a great deal of gratitude for helping me when I was a student journalist at Carolina. He gave me access to closed practices. He let me travel with the team. And I even got a meal out of it every now and then.

    The first time Coach Smith ever spoke to me, it was about something he’d just as soon not talk about – a recently graduated player’s secret marriage and impending ugly divorce. To his credit, he immediately returned my call and spoke to me, and only me, because he felt it was a duty, an obligation, a commitment he made to help students. My article was picked up by the Associated Press and it ran throughout the country. True to his word, it was the only article on the topic that included a quote from him.

    Five years after I graduated, I called his radio talk show to thank him for helping my career. I had never really thanked him because it was so ingrained in me to be impartial as a journalist (As if I didn’t pump my fist under the scorer’s table when Michael Jordan hit what turned out to be the winning shot against Georgetown in the finals).

    Anyway, on the phone, it didn’t seem like he remembered me but it turned out his hearing wasn’t as good as his memory. He thought I said “Chris” Barnes. When he figured out that it was “Cliff” Barnes, he mentioned my hometown of Rocky Mount and he said I was an excellent writer (hey, I’ve got that on tape).

    I’ve heard story after story about his thoughtfulness in remembering people and asking about their family. Clearly, Coach Smith simply had the best memory of any person I’ve ever known. His loss of memory is both sad and vexing. I certainly thought it would be his body that went bad before that sharp mind. I understand he has good days and bad days. He certainly provided me with more good days than bad days and I pray his memory improves. If not, I hope he only remembers the good days.