Forde Minutes: Dean Smith and the college basketball coaching Mount Rushmore

Pat Forde

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (protective eye gear sold separately if Iowa is on the schedule):

THE CALMEST COACH

The accompanying picture of North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan (1) rising for the game-winning shot with 17 seconds left in the 1982 national championship game is a familiar one to basketball fans. It was Jordan's first introduction to the world at large as a blossoming star, the unofficial launch of a global icon. But the part of this famous picture that has always struck The Minutes as most remarkable is the Tar Heels coaching staff.

Dean Smith and the UNC coaching staff looks on while Michael Jordan hits the winning jumper in the 1982 national title game. (Allen Steele/Raleigh News and Observer)

The coaches are all just sitting there. Elbows on thighs, hands clasped, faces impassive –as if they were on a commuter train and not the sideline of the Superdome in one of the transformative moments of their careers.

"You guys are sitting there like you're watching a pick-up game," former Tar Heel Mike O'Koren once told one of the assistants in the picture, Roy Williams (2).

Far in the background, Georgetown coach John Thompson (3) is much more animated. He is up, along with his assistants, very much embodying the tension of the moment.

The far greater burden rested on the Carolina bench, where the Heels were attempting to break a 25-year national title drought. Yet there was no standing. No gyrating. No screaming. No obvious sign that Jordan's shot will have a huge impact on how the world judged the head coach of that team, one Dean Smith (4).

Smith, who died Saturday at the age of 83, was in his 21st season at coach at North Carolina. He'd already won a million games, but he'd never won it all. This was his seventh Final Four, and second in a row. He had a loaded team, playing an upstart Georgetown bunch that had never been here before. If Smith somehow failed to win it this time, when was he going to?

Yet here was his team, trailing by a point in the final minute. Williams recalls the timeout that preceded Jordan's shot as a moment of coaching greatness.

"The timeout before Michael's shot was the most amazing moment of coaching I'd ever witnessed, and still to this day I've ever witnessed," Williams said Monday. "He was so confident in the timeout, and so assuring to our team. When they came over to the huddle, they had a big-time negative look on their face, almost a look of panic: 'Oh my gosh, we're down one with 32 seconds left,' or whatever it was. When they left the huddle, they had erased that look completely. They had the look of a very confident, calm team, that things were going to be OK."

Things were indeed going to be OK. North Carolina won the game, 63-62. And Smith had handled the moment with more aplomb than nearly anyone else could have summoned.

Contrast Smith's mellow management of that pressure situation with the in-game hysterics from some modern look-at-me coaches, who use the sideline as a stage for their own theater of the hyperactively absurd.

Amid huge pressure, Dean Smith did his part by focusing his players in that timeout, then calmly sat down and watched the players do their part. Even with everything on the line, Smith trusted his team. And from all appearances, he was going to be OK with the outcome regardless of whether Jordan's shot went in.

That is a secure coach. And a great coach.

Michael Jordan and Dean Smith share a moment during a ceremony. (AP)

COACHING MOUNT RUSHMORE

With Smith's passing, it's a good time to review who The Minutes would put on the college basketball coaching Mount Rushmore. The current quartet, in rank order:

John Wooden (5). Won 10 NCAA titles in 12 seasons. Won 88 games in a row. Retired relatively early. Influenced generations of coaches in terms of both strategy and teaching methods. Record will never be duplicated.

Mike Krzyzewski (6). Winningest men's coach of all time, surpassing 1,000 victories last month and still climbing. Four national titles, 11 Final Fours, led U.S. to Olympic gold medals in 2008 and '12. Clearly the class of the last quarter century.

Dean Smith. Two national titles, 11 Final Fours, huge influence on the game and an even bigger influence beyond the game. Streak of 13 straight Sweet 16 appearances won't be duplicated anytime soon (longest current streak is Billy Donovan with four – and that shows strong signs of ending this year).

Bob Knight (7). Three national titles, five Final Fours, one Olympic gold medal (1984). Won 11 Big Ten regular-season titles. Surpassed Smith's record victory total, until his was surpassed by Krzyzewski.

If you wish to evict Knight based on comportment, the next best candidates all have their own issues. They include: Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Henry Iba, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Denny Crum, Billy Donovan and John Thompson. Fight it out amongst yourselves.

QUESTION ALL YOU BELIEVE IN – OR AT LEAST SOME OF IT

The Minutes debates some commonly held assumptions.

Premise: Kentucky (8) is unbeatable.

Fanboy: The Wildcats are more than halfway to 40-0, with just one ranked opponent (No. 23 Arkansas) between here and the postseason. Kentucky has thrashed the nation's No. 8 team (Kansas) by 32 on a neutral court; withstood the No. 9 team (Louisville) on the road by eight; and handled the No. 12 team (North Carolina) by 14. The Wildcats are inarguably the best defensive team in the land, and arguably the best defensive team ever. In a nation full of uninspiring competition, who is going to beat the 'Cats?

Hater: Several Southeastern Conference teams already have had a chance to beat the 'Cats, despite some lousy collective injury luck. Texas A&M took Kentucky into double overtime with its leading scorer, Jalen Jones, not playing the entire game. Mississippi took Kentucky into OT in Rupp Arena with leading scorer Stefan Moody missing most of crunch time and OT with cramps – after scoring 25 points. Georgia came to Rupp Arena with leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton sidelined by a concussion – he will be ready to go for the rematch in Athens March 3. Florida went without leading scorer Michael Frazier for most of the second half Saturday after he sprained an ankle. Sooner or later, a fully healthy team is taking Kentucky down.

Fanboy: Kentucky has had its own manpower issues. Trey Lyles has missed the last three games with a mystery illness, and UK won them all.

Hater: Kentucky is less affected by missing players than anyone else. And Lyles is seventh on the team in scoring, not first.

John Calipari reacts to a call during a Kentucky win on Feb. 7. (Getty)

Fanboy: The Wildcats turned it up in the postseason last year. Remember "The Tweak"? What happens when they turn it up this year? Nobody will stay with them.

Hater: Last year's Tweak led to UK winning five NCAA tournament games by a total of 18 points. That wasn't domination; it was clutch play and good fortune. Duke, Wisconsin, Virginia and a handful of other teams will be legitimate challenges for a team that hasn't been sufficiently tested in a long time. And then there is the burden of taking an undefeated record into a single-elimination tournament.

Fanboy: Don't start with that.

Hater: Agreed. Another argument for another column on another day.

Premise: Jahlil Okafor (9) is the runaway national Player of the Year.

Fanboy: Don't even mention anyone else. Jah is amazing down low – touch, moves, strength, passing ability, knowledge of the game. The few shots he misses, he's likely to put back in – he's a killer on the offensive glass. He's the best offensive big man in college basketball since Kevin Love – and Love was criminally misused as a screener by Ben Howland at UCLA.

Hater: I notice you're not mentioning his defense. Because it's pretty awful. He's not active or intimidating, slow to react and seemingly not that interested. Shouldn't the Player of the Year be able to guard someone?

Fanboy: No, his game is not complete – he's a freshman. But you're exaggerating his shortcomings on defense. If there were a more well-rounded player out there, wouldn't we be hearing about him?

Hater: Well, let's hear it for Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky (10), whose numbers (17.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 blocks) are very similar to Okafor's (18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.5 blocks) despite playing for a team that has 16 percent fewer possessions per game. And let's hear it for a couple of do-everything big guards, Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell (11) (19.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.8 steals) and Utah's Delon Wright (12) (14.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.1 steals). Russell is a freshman – what if Okafor isn't even the best freshman in America?

Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky is a contender for national Player of the Year. (USAT)

Fanboy: And what if Okafor had the ball in his hands as much as Russell does? His numbers would be even better. Want to compare team rankings?

Hater: Check back with me. Sure would hate to see Okafor go out the same way Jabari Parker did.

Premise: Kansas (13) rules the Big 12 yet again.

Fanboy: There is nothing new to see here. Move along. The Jayhawks always win the league and are going to win the league again comfortably. After the bloodletting Monday night, they have a two-game lead in the loss column. In fact, they should be farther down in this column, where The Minutes discusses who is playing for second.

Hater: The Minutes says the column was organized this way before Monday night got crazy, so deal with it. Besides, it says here that anyone sleeping on Oklahoma (14) could be in for a rude wake-up call come March 7.

Fanboy: The same Oklahoma team that is 17-7, 8-4 in the league? Lost to Creighton and Washington, and at home to Kansas State? That Oklahoma? You mean to say the Sooners can win the Big 12?

Hater: The Sooners are going to sweep February, mark it down. Then come the showdowns: at Iowa State (15) – another team that could factor into this before it's all over – and home against Kansas. You do remember the first Kansas-Oklahoma game, right? Where the Jayhawks led by 19 at half and then were down four with eight minutes to go?

Fanboy: And then what happened? Kansas regrouped and won.

Hater: It will be different in Norman. And before that the Jayhawks have big Monday trips to West Virginia and Kansas State.

Fanboy: You're overreacting to that loss to Oklahoma State (16) on Saturday in Stillwater. That happens. Travis Ford has been hard on Bill Self in Gallagher-Iba for years.

Hater: Go beat up on poor Texas Tech on Tuesday to feel good about yourself. After that it's back to the grind. Don't go counting any titles too early.

IOWA POKE-EYES … WHAT SHOULD BE DONE?

Iowa center Adam Woodbury (17) caught his third Big Ten opponent of the season in the eye with his fingers Sunday. Maryland guard Melo Trimble (18) joined Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky on the list of Woodbury poke victims.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery (19) imperiously declared the subject a non-subject after the game Sunday. From the Iowa transcript:

Q. That's three times he's got somebody in the eye. How does this keep happening?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Next question. Ask an intelligent question.

Q. Why is that not an intelligent question?

FRAN McCAFFERY: Because I said so.

This is the same coach whose bristly response helped turn the entire fan base on ESPN analyst Dan Dakich when he made an issue of the Woodbury eye pokes against Wisconsin. Dakich had additional security the next time he called a game in Iowa City.

Nevertheless, in search of a more intelligent answer from His Excellency, The Minutes posed a similar question Monday to McCaffery on the Big Ten teleconference.

Iowa's Fran McCaffery reacts to a call during a loss. (USAT)

McCaffery's answer was certainly more thoughtful: "I've been watching this kid since he was a sophomore in high school. He's always poked the ball, stripped the ball. You're playing a team like Maryland, they're going to drive the ball. No matter who you play, they run ball-screen stuff. Guys are coming at him. His options are try to take a charge or swipe at the ball.

"I know the kid. I know what we teach. I know him. I know his character. I know his background. He does not want this attention. He doesn't deserve it. It's not anything malicious or anything intentional.

"He's playing the best basketball of his life. He had 16 points. Do you think he wants to be out of the game with foul trouble? He's too smart for that. All I can tell you is, we don't encourage it. We don't want him to do it. I think when you have a quick player that's coming, those kind of things happen. …

"I think if you were literally trying to poke someone in the eye, that's hard to do. I don't think you could do that continuously. I'm 100 percent behind him. I know the kid. Quite frankly, I think there's way too much talk about it."

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon (20) also downplayed the poke on the Big Ten call Monday: "I think the league office has to handle it. I think you have to be pretty talented to be moving full speed and poke a kid in the eye and try to do it. That's just my opinion. The league's got to look at it, obviously. The kid apologized. Melo's fine, so we move on."

The Big Ten obviously has reviewed the plays, but there is no indication that the league will punish Woodbury. As a spokesman told The Minutes Monday: "If there is a sportsmanship violation, we would send out a statement at the appropriate time."

McCaffery is believable – Woodbury likely is not doing this intentionally. But his particularly intrusive manner of face-guarding opponents has become dangerous, intentional or not. Hopefully he doesn't put someone's eye out (or scratch a cornea, detach a retina, etc.) while the Big Ten office stands idly by.

WHO IS NO. 2?

At least three of the major conferences have a clear-cut leader, and a cluttered collection of pursuers. Which is the second-best team in those leagues? The Minutes takes a look:

Big Ten (21)

Big dog: Wisconsin (21-2 overall, 9-1 in league, three-game lead in the loss column).

After that: Six teams with four losses, a huddled mass of mediocrity yearning to breathe free: Ohio State, Maryland, Indiana and Purdue at 7-4, with Iowa and Michigan State at 6-4. The Minutes says Ohio State (22) will emerge as the league's No. 2 seed come tournament time, with the top four seeds (and double byes) going to the Badgers, Buckeyes, Hawkeyes and Terrapins.

SEC (23)

Big dog: Kentucky (23-0, 10-0, three-game lead in the loss column).

After that: Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas A&M are 7-3, followed by Georgia and LSU at 6-4. The Minutes predicts Arkansas (24) will finish second, although the Razorbacks have five of their last eight on the road, and Homecourt Mike Anderson is 7-26 away from Bud Walton Arena as coach of the Hogs. Other double byes go to Mississippi and Texas A&M.

ACC (25)

Big dog: Virginia (21-1 overall, 9-1, two-game lead in the loss column). Although the injury to standout guard Justin Anderson is a significant plot twist.

Jahlil Okafor high-fives a teammate during a Duke win. (Getty)

After that: Notre Dame, Duke, North Carolina and Louisville all have three league losses. The Minutes believes Duke (26) is the second-best team in the ACC, and may yet grab the tournament top seed if it gets some help (the Blue Devils own the tiebreaker with Virginia). Additional double byes go to Louisville and North Carolina.

POWERHOUSE PUNCHING BAGS

Kentucky. Victories: 2,163. Punching bag: Tennessee (27). Series record: Kentucky 150, Tennessee 67. Percentage of all-time victories that have been against the Volunteers: 6.9 percent. Last time the punching bag punched back: Feb. 16, 2013. Tennessee 88, Kentucky 58. Next meeting: Feb. 17 in Knoxville.

Kansas. Victories: 2,145. Punching bag: Kansas State (28). Series record: Kansas 188, Kansas State 92. Percentage of all-time victories that have been against the Wildcats: 8.7 percent. Last time the punching bag punched back: Feb. 10, 2014. Kansas State 85, Kansas 82 (OT). Next meeting: Feb. 23 in Manhattan.

North Carolina. Victories: 2,132. Punching bag: Wake Forest (29). Series record: North Carolina 156, Wake Forest 66. Percentage of all-time victories that have been against the Demon Deacons: 7.3 percent. Last time the punching bag punched back: Jan. 5, 2014. Wake Forest 73, North Carolina 67. Next meeting: 2016, unless they meet in the ACC tournament.

Duke. Victories: 2,047. Punching bag: Wake Forest. Series record: Duke 164, Wake Forest 78. Percentage of all-time victories that have come against the Demon Deacons: 8 percent. Last time the punching bag punched back: March 5, 2014. Wake Forest 82, Duke 72. Next meeting: March 4 in Durham.

Syracuse. Victories: 1,917. Punching bag: Colgate (30). Series record: Syracuse 122, Colgate 45. Percentage of all-time victories that have been against the Raiders: 6.4 percent. Last time the punching bag punched back: Feb. 24, 1962. Colgate 67, Syracuse 63. Next meeting: Next season.

COACHES WHO NEED A GOOD MONTH

In four weeks, it will be go time for the major conference tournaments. Which means a few coaches are in the stretch run of their current employment. What happens between now and Selection Sunday will have a big impact. Looking at one coach from each of the power-five leagues who needs to rally the fan base:

Anthony Grant (31), Alabama. Currently: 14-9, 4-6 in the SEC. This is Grant's sixth year, with one NCAA tournament bid to show for it. The administration gave him this season in part because he's a stand-up guy, and in part because there are waterfalls in the football facility to pay for and firing basketball coaches isn't going to help with that. The Crimson Tide has played a tough schedule and has little to show for it other than a lot of quality losses. Grant seemingly needs a strong finish in the worst way.

Lorenzo Romar (32), Washington. Currently: 14-9, 3-8 in the Pac-12. Romar appears well on his way to a fourth straight year without an NCAA tourney bid, after good success earlier in his tenure with the Huskies. Washington dismissed its starting center, is on a five-game losing streak and is welcoming Arizona to town Friday. Good luck, Lo.

Brian Gregory (33), Georgia Tech. Currently: 11-12 overall, 2-9 in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets have been Team Heartbreak this year, with seven league losses by five points or less or in overtime. But sympathy points only get you so far, and this is year four for Gregory at Tech without an NCAA bid in sight. He's 18-45 in ACC play.

Texas coach Rick Barnes yells to his players during a game against Iowa State. (AP)

Rick Barnes (34), Texas. Currently: 15-8, 4-6 in the Big 12. The Longhorns aren't bad, but they've taken a bit of a beating in the rugged Big 12. They get a bounce-back opportunity this week, with TCU and Texas Tech at home, but the closing stretch is brutal. Still, Texas is a probable NCAA tournament team. Barnes rallied support last year, and he may be on solid footing – but he's working for a relatively new athletic director in Steve Patterson, and we'll have to see what his expectations are for basketball.

Pat Chambers (35), Penn State. Currently: 15-9, 3-8 in the Big Ten. Chambers figures to be secure – he has a promising recruiting class coming in and there is an institutional understanding of the historic pauper status of Penn State hoops. But this will be a fourth year with no NCAA bid, he's 15-50 in the league, and new AD Sandy Barbour is the X-factor.

LITERARY CORNER

The Minutes recommends giving a read to "The WhistleBlower: Rooting for the Ref in the High-Stakes World of College Basketball." Author Bob Katz followed famed/infamous veteran official Ed Hightower (36) through parts of what turned out to be his penultimate season reffing college ball, in 2012-13. The book has some good insight into Hightower as a person outside the zebra shirt – he's a school superintendent in Edwardsville, Ill., and enjoyed listening to religious sermons while driving to games, for instance. And there are some interesting interactions that are part of the job – best of which was being criticized in a restaurant for a call on Northwestern guard Drew Crawford by the player's father, Danny – who is a veteran NBA official.

"That was a father talking," Hightower said afterward. "Not a referee."

Given the American sporting culture that universally vilifies officials, the book is a worthwhile reminder that the refs are real people, too. And not as corrupt and inept and biased against your team as you think.

UNDER THE RADAR LOVE

Each week The Minutes will select a player from a less-renowned conference who deserves some pub:

There were several good choices, but the clear winner was Marcus Posley (37) of St. Bonaventure. Why? Consecutive buzzer-beating shots will do it. The Bonnies scored their two biggest wins of the season when Posley first beat Davidson with a drive and pull-up jumper last Wednesday on the road, then shocked VCU on Saturday at home with a jack-knifing, double-clutch layup. The junior guard, a transfer from Ball State, spectacularly counterbalanced a brutal two-game stretch that preceded last week: he was 5-for-24 from the field in losses to LaSalle and Rhode Island. St. Bonaventure has played its way out of the bottom half of the 14-team Atlantic-10; now we'll see if it can stay out.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Travis Ford and Oklahoma State have won three consecutive games. (USAT)

Travis Ford (38), Oklahoma State. The Cowboys had the best Saturday-Monday double of the year in the Big 12, rallying to beat Kansas at home and then doing the same at Baylor. In both games, Oklahoma State played stellar second halves as Ford kept his team composed and made the proper adjustments. Combine that with a win at Texas on Feb. 4, and nobody has had a better February than the Pokes. As of today, this is definitely a tournament team.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Donnie Jones (39), Central Florida. The Knights have lost six straight by an average margin of 16.3 points. Their only two conference wins were in overtime, by a total of four points. There are several winnable games left on the schedule after playing a rigorous slate up to this point, but what once looked like an up-and-coming program under a hot young coach has been thrown in reverse – with NCAA infractions a couple of years ago to boot. Jones, in his fifth year at UCF and sporting a 6-23 record in the American Athletic Conference, is strongly advised to win some of them. The first opportunity is Wednesday against similarly awful South Florida (7-17, 1-10) in a battle of Florida schools that don't care about basketball.

BUZZER BEATER

When hungry and thirsty in the great city of Austin, The Minutes recommends a visit to Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill (40). The place was a recommendation of former Olympian swimming star Brendan Hansen, and he knows his food. Moonshine bills itself as "Classic American comfort food," which means you should say yes to corndog shrimp and warm bacon dip for appetizers, the BLT that comes with a fried egg, the green chile macaroni and the chicken and waffles. Have an Independence Stash IPA with your meal and thank The Minutes later.