Much of what I know about life I learned about from my maternal grandpa, Gene Lester Jarrett.
One thing Grandpa taught me is how to tie my shoes, since he and I are the only lefties in our family. I can vividly remember him coming to our house specifically for the purpose of teaching me the subtle nuances of southpaw shoe-tying.
Another thing I learned from my grandpa is how to appreciate all of God’s people. Grandpa approaches everyone with respect and honor. He taught me the importance of being able to call someone by name and to bring dignity to their life, no matter how “important” or not they are.
Grandpa also taught me some vital lessons about food.
If there was a food I didn’t want to try, he would joke with me, “Good, that leaves more for the rest of us!” While at the time I always rolled my eyes, of course I now use that very same line on my own children.
The single greatest food lesson I learned from Grandpa Gene dealt directly with dessert. You first need to know that my grandma is an unparalleled cook. Amongst other things, she makes phenomenal pies. She’ll typically make two different pies for dessert, like she did for Christmas dinner this year. You see, the multiplicity of pie possibilities provides options for someone who might not care for a singular pie option.
We were in Tennessee this year to celebrate Christmas with my extended family. Grandma made a pecan pie and a lemon meringue pie; two of my absolute favorites. Mere mortals would feel boxed in and choose just one of the pie selections for dessert. But not Gene Lester Jarrett.
When someone asks Grandpa if he wants pecan or lemon meringue, he sits back, furrows his brow in an attempt to appear boxed in by this difficult and limiting decision, and then definitively responds, “Yes.”
“Yes, Gene? What do you mean ‘yes’? I asked if you wanted pecan or lemon meringue. You can’t answer that with ‘yes’.”
“Yes. Give me a slice of both. I don’t want pecan OR lemon meringue, I want pecan AND lemon meringue.”
The man is a dessert genius. A dessert savant. The rest of us are playing dessert checkers and he’s playing dessert chess.
“What on earth do your grandpa’s dessert decisions have to do with North Carolina basketball?” Great question, glad you asked.
On the eve of Roy Williams breaking Dean Smith’s all-time wins record, you’re going to encounter a number of people in the days and weeks to come (if you haven’t already) who want to force you to choose between Coach Smith and Coach Williams. In this era of hyperbolic GOAT talk and ‘Top 5 Lists’ and if-you-aren’t-first-you-don’t-matter, there’s apparently no room in most peoples’ minds to allow both men to sit atop the pantheon of North Carolina college basketball.
But if you’re forced to pick one, it means you aren’t picking the other. If you choose Dean, you feel like you’re cheating on Roy. If you choose Roy, you feel like you’re cheating on Dean.
A vote for Dean means forgetting Hall-of-Famer Roy Williams’ 879 wins, three national championships, nine Final Fours, seven Conference Tournament Championships (three ACC, three Big 12, one Big Eight), 18 Conference Regular Season Championships (nine ACC, four Big 12, five Big Eight), multiple National Coach of the Year awards, nine Conference Coach of the Year Awards (two ACC, three Big 12, four Big Eight), and countless lives changed for the better amongst other astounding professional and personal accolades.
A vote for Roy means forgetting Hall-of-Famer Dean Smith’s 879 wins, two national championships, 11 Final Fours, 13 ACC Tournament Championships, 17 ACC Regular Season Championships, multiple National Coach of the Year awards, eight ACC Coach of the Year awards, one Olympic Gold Medal, and countless lives changed for the better amongst other astounding professional and personal accolades.
There’s no way you’re forcing me to pick just one of these two giants of college basketball coaching.
So as Roy Williams prepares to pass Dean Smith in total wins at some point in the coming days (hopefully on Saturday against Georgia Tech!), it doesn’t have to be a coronation for Coach Williams or a snubbing of Coach Smith.
This is a time for North Carolina faithful (and hopefully all of college basketball) to celebrate both men for the coaches, the teachers, the confidants, the activists, the role models that they both are.
This is a time to reflect on the memories that these gentlemen have inserted into your brain because of the way their basketball teams played on the court.
This is a time to remember how lucky you are to be a Tar Heel in that no other school can boast of two such renowned and successful coaches.
This is a time to think back on the scores of players whose lives have been completely altered because of one (or in some cases, both) of these men.
This is a time to recall the laughter you have when Coach Williams crouches down in a fiery defensive stance imploring his team to get a stop or how you would smile and shake your head at the absurdity of Coach Smith confidently convincing his team that they were going to win a game they had no business winning.
This is a time to relish the fact that neither of these men want or need the spotlight, but would rather focus on the young men in their care. After the win over Yale last Monday, Coach Williams didn’t want to be celebrated; he wanted to get back to the locker room as quickly as possible to check on the ailing Anthony Harris. Coach Smith would have done exactly the same.
This is a time to remember that both men would want you to celebrate the other. As Coach Smith’s son Scott said to Coach Williams after his 879th victory last Monday night, “Dad would be really happy.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t have to be Dean OR Roy. Just like my grandpa choosing between my grandma’s pecan or lemon meringue pie, choose Dean AND Roy.
Coach Smith or Coach Williams? Just say, “yes”.