Dean Smith, the legendary former North Carolina head coach, passed away this weekend.
In a tidbit of information straight out of the holy crap, I’m old department — Dean Smith actually retired from coaching 18 years ago, in 1997. Therefore, most basketball fans under 25 probably have no idea who Dean Smith was – or what he represented.
Dean Smith was Michael Jordan’s college coach at North Carolina. And he was the most respected coach / teacher in the college game for over 2 decades.
Dean Smith was a coach. He was a coach in an era – the 1980’s and 1990’s – of college basketball when coaches were larger than life. And they were coaches.
Today, head coaches are basically CEO’s. Given the realities of modern media, coaches today must be polished, politically correct, figure heads. Of course, they still have to win basketball games. That was true then and it’s true now. But 20 and 30 years ago – coaches coached. And they did so with vastly different personalities and styles that made each of them unique and highly marketable in their own way.
Without social media, without nearly as much national television, without the internet – coaches were significantly more free to be themselves and coach their team with freedom of personality. It made the whole enterprise just a little more fun than it is now.
Today, in a college athletics environment that resembles a corporate workplace – having an outlandish personality is a risk. College employees – including coaches – have their spontaneity and personality scrubbed by risk managers and P.R. filters. I get why it’s necessary, but for the average fan – it leaves a void.
As a result, there aren’t nearly as many colorful personalities in today’s college game. The ones that stand out – Boeheim, Calipari, Pitino – are mostly holdovers from a previous era.
In the mid-90’s – in a move reflective of the popularity of the coaches themselves – ESPN produced a series of musical commercials – designed to promote their college basketball telecasts – which featured actor / singer Robert Goulet.
If you don’t know who Robert Goulet is – I’m sorry.
Think of Robert Goulet as Burt Reynolds, but with an incredible voice and as a lounge singer in Vegas. It’s a lethal combination.
The commercials were – quite possibly – the greatest series of musical commercials ever filmed.
Side notes about Robert Goulet: (a) He played one of the house guests in Tim Burton’s 1998 classic film Beetlejuice, and (b) the American Mustache Institute presents The Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award to the person who best-represents or contributes to the Mustached American community during that year (courtesy WikiPedia).
Side note about Beetlejuice: apparently Beetlejuice 2 is in the works.
Side note about that side note: That’s pretty awesome – mainly because Winona Ryder is gong to be in it and she’s probably still incredibly beautiful in that nutty-waif kind of way.
Anyway, back to Dean Smith. His passing – happily – reminded me of the Robert Goulet commercials. After said reminder, I immediately re-watched them. All of them. There are 16. It’s time well spent. I do it about once a year. I encourage you to do the same.
Here’s a link to the Dean Smith version (you can easily find the others by searching for “Robert Goulet ESPN commercials”). There’s a Bob Knight, and a Rick Pitino version as well. You can thank me later: