David Chadwick – What Playing Basketball at UNC for Coach Dean Smith Taught Him about Life and Leadership

“Coach Smith said practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect. How you practiced well and prepared yourself well would be the greatest indicator for success on the floor.” -David Chadwick

[00:00:00] David Chadwick: He really wasn’t the kind of coach trying to give pre-game speeches to excite us and get us more enthused about playing. I think he believed that games were not just won in a locker room. I think he would believe that you play as you practice. And he believed that games were won in practices.  And he believed playing time was earned during the practices and he would watch how we practiced. And if we did practice well, we would get to play.


[00:00:30] Tommy Thomas: Our guest today is David Chadwick, the pastor of Moments of Hope Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. David graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he played basketball under the legendary coach Dean Smith and was a member of an NCAA Final Four Team. He has a graduate degree in counseling from the University of Florida and two degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary. David’s also a radio host and the author of several books.  Let’s join the conversation.

Before we dive too deep into your professional career, let’s go back to your childhood.  What was it like growing up in the Chadwick household?

[00:01:11] David Chadwick: My dad was a pastor. He passed away about 15 years ago and I was raised in a preacher’s kids home. Dad started out in the Moravian church centered in Winston Salem, North Carolina, largely. And then in 1953, he decided to become the senior pastor of a Presbyterian church at that point, a PCUS church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I lived my very formative years here in Charlotte from 1953 to 1963. And it was very much a big part of my life. Much of my faith was embedded within me during those years. Then we moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where we lived, and Dad had a church in Kansas City, Missouri.

He felt like he’d done all he could do with the church in Charlotte. And so wanted a new challenge and went out there. And then my mom developed a strange allergy to cold and it came out of nowhere and Kansas City can be quite cold during the wintertime. And it threatened to close her breathing capacities and her voice.

And we had to quickly alter what God’s plans were for Dad’s life. Let me restate that Tommy. We had to seek God with some new ideas for our lives at that point. And strangely, by God’s providence, Dad got a call to a church in Orlando, Florida. We went there for my junior and senior years. Having to move into my junior year in high school was not fun.

But it put me back on the East Coast and looking back now I can see how those were the years my basketball gifts really began to develop and of course, when I graduated from high school, I signed to play basketball at the University of North Carolina with Coach Dean Smith. That’s a brief history of my background.

[00:02:57] Tommy Thomas: What do you think is the greatest gift your parents gave you?

[00:03:01] David Chadwick: Their own faith. I think faith is much more caught than taught. Though they did teach faith, they lived faith, and I saw in the different trials and vicissitudes that we would face in life that Mom and Dad really did lean on the Lord and not on their own understanding, and so I wanted who they were more than what they said.  And I think that’s the greatest gift they gave me. They modeled their faith.

[00:03:28] Tommy Thomas: What did you want to be when you grew up?

[00:03:32] David Chadwick: Not a pastor. I can tell you that. I saw my dad and all that he had to go through in pastoring, so I ran as far away from that as I possibly could. I think not knowing any better, because I grew to be six feet, eight inches tall and had some basketball acumen, I dreamed, like every kid that I could play in the NBA one day, so I put most of my energies early on into just developing my basketball prowess. Also, in North Carolina, I really loved communicating and talking, so I looked at the possibility of broadcasting as a career as well.

When I graduated from North Carolina in my senior year, I had some success. So a team in Europe recruited me and I went and played in the European Professional Leagues for three years and then came back and I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to do at that point in my life either and that’s when I contacted John Lotz, who was the assistant coach at North Carolina when I played and had become the head coach at the University of Florida and again I came out of Orlando, Florida so I had a lot of connections throughout the state and so John offered me the possibility of becoming a graduate assistant with him.

And I did so for two years, earned a graduate degree in counseling before the Lord finally backed me into the corner and the Hound of Heaven pursued me and said, this is what I’ve called you to do, to proclaim my gospel in the local church. And I went into seminary in 1976.

[00:05:00] Tommy Thomas:  Obviously, you had the makings of a great basketball player.  What were your parent’s thoughts and how did they nurture, I assume it was nurture, it could have been discouragement. How did they fit into that?

[00:05:12] David Chadwick: They allowed all three of us, my sister and my brother to pursue our own giftedness. My brother and I had tremendous musical giftedness, mostly inherited from my dad. My dad had a chance to go on Broadway at one point while he was a minister. And he turned it down because he knew his calling was to the church. But my sister pursued her gifts and, I just got really tall and always loved sports. And pretty soon on, it became apparent that I was going to be really tall, and I had some giftedness in basketball.

So they allowed me to pursue that and go after it with every ounce of my being, and they came to all of my games, and I think they just wanted me to pursue my gifts, and they encouraged me.

[00:05:54] Tommy Thomas: What’s your earliest memory of organized sports?

[00:05:58] David Chadwick: That would be when we moved to Kansas City. I was walking down the hall to Shrewsbury, who had an independent middle school basketball team that he coached and played in different Y leagues and those kinds of things. And he evidently found out my name and my telephone number and called my mom. And said, I saw your son walking down the hallways of middle school and he’s pretty tall.

And my mom, she didn’t really understand sports a whole lot, but she knew I was pretty tall. And he said I have a basketball team. Would your son be interested? And my mom said I’ll have to leave that to him and his dad. And of course, Dad said, if that’s what you want to pursue, son.

And so I tried out.  I wasn’t really good. I was so skinny during those early days that there was a joke that if I turned sideways and stuck out my tongue, I’d look like a zipper. I just didn’t have beefiness at all to me, but I did love the game and I was tall, and Charlie Shrewsbury saw something in me.

So, for those two years that I was in Kansas City under him, I played on his teams and then I actually made the JV team my 10th grade year in high school and played partially from time to time on the varsity, but mostly JV.

And then between my sophomore and junior years when we moved to Orlando, something just happened.  I put on some weight, all the athleticism began to come together, and I went from a JV player in my 10th-grade year to first-team All-State my junior year. Mom and Dad encouraged me to continue to pursue all of that.

[00:07:33] Tommy Thomas: So, what do you remember about Charlie’s input? What do you think is the greatest thing you learned from him about life and leadership?

[00:07:40] David Chadwick: That fundamentals in the game of basketball are absolutely key if you’re going to be successful. You better learn how to just do the basics: pass, shoot, rebound, block out. All of those are just basic things that you’ve got to do. And he instilled those fundamentals within me, which carry over to life.

There are certain fundamentals of life that you just have to have down, like loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and might, and loving your neighbors, and yourself, those basic principles that God teaches. And if you don’t get those down, you’re just not going to be successful. 

I went to North Carolina, and I was not a great athlete by any means.  I had some height and I had fundamental skills. I was a perfect Dean Smith kind of player.

I went to North Carolina, and I was not a great athlete by any means.  I had some height and I had fundamental skills. I was a perfect Dean Smith kind of player. And so without Charlie’s input in teaching me those fundamentals, I would have never been successful.


[00:08:35] Tommy Thomas: At what point in your basketball life under Coach Smith did you realize he was teaching you something other than basketball?

[00:08:44] David Chadwick: You probably, Tommy, realized that more after you leave, having played for him more than you do at the moment. But after you leave, you realize that he continued to place in you those fundamentals of how to play the game and also how to operate as a team.

And I probably learned more about leadership playing under Dean Smith than any other person ever taught me. And I think as you graduate and then look back you realize, my goodness, he was not only teaching you truths about how to play the game of basketball well, but he was also teaching you truths about how to live life well.  And again, that became clearer after you left.

[00:09:30] Tommy Thomas: Some people don’t put Christianity and competition in the same sentence, but obviously you’ve lived that life, Coach Smith lived that life. How does a Christian reconcile competition and desire to win against his or her faith?

[00:09:47] David Chadwick: All I can do is share my own pilgrimage in that area, and that is, if you look at competition as a measuring stick for you becoming better as a person. And in life in general ways, I think it’s okay. If you look at the competition, though, to win, then it can become a personal ambition, which allows you to feel superior to another person.

And that’s not good. That’s pride. That’s what allowed the devil to become the devil. And he wanted Jesus’ position, and he did everything he could to subvert the power of God so that he could have what he wanted. So it’s a delicate balance for sure.

But if you have to win to be better than someone, you’re in danger.  But if you use competition simply to measure how better you’re becoming, I think that’s a good thing.

[00:10:43] Tommy Thomas: It’s often said that a game is won or lost in the locker room before the start of the game. Do you remember any pre-game talks from Coach Smith or anybody else that that impacted the team?

[00:10:55] David Chadwick: He really wasn’t the kind of coach trying to give pre-game speeches to excite us and get us more enthused about playing. I think he believed that games were not just won in a locker room. I think he would believe that you play as you practice. And he believed that games were won in practices.  He believed playing time was earned during the practices and he would watch how we practiced. And if we did practice well, we would get to play.

I don’t remember Coach Smith really giving us the pep talks before the games. I believe he was preparing us well and in that preparation, he believed that if we did what he said we needed to do, we would probably win the game.

[00:11:42] Tommy Thomas: I read a quote recently.  It says you won’t rise to the occasion. You will sink to your level of preparedness.

[00:11:47] David Chadwick:  That’s really good. He used to always say too, practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. And so how you practiced well and prepared yourself well would be the greatest indicator for success on the floor.

[00:12:07] Tommy Thomas: What did you learn from Coach Smith about mentoring?

[00:12:12] David Chadwick: You’re preparing the next generation with how you yourself are living. And you could look at his own coaching and see how he prepared other coaches to be successful, obviously, even now, long after he’s passed away and gone to be with the Lord.

You can see, for example, the number of coaches who came from his coaching tree. From Larry Brown to Doug Moe to Eddie Fogler to Roy Williams to the fact that Hubert Davis played under him in the late 1980s and is now coaching North Carolina. I think Coach Smith purposefully, and maybe even not so purposefully mentored other people to be great coaches.

And I think his coaching tree probably goes into the dozens of men who went into coaching, and then you think about the numbers of lives of those young men affected by Coach Smith’s philosophies. It would go into the thousands.


[00:13:12] Tommy Thomas: No matter how hard and dedicated you are to do something; failure is always an option. How did y’all view that? You went into every game knowing you might not win.

Coach Smith lived by the principle of making failure your friend. By that I mean that he felt like failure wasn’t a failure if you learn from it, and you get up and then move forward with what you’ve learned.

[00:13:24] David Chadwick: I think Coach Smith lived by the principle of making failure your friend. By that I mean that he felt like failure wasn’t a failure if you learn from it, and you get up and then move forward with what you’ve learned.

And he knew that better than anybody. When he was hired in 1962, to be the head coach at North Carolina, he was coming out of Frank McGuire’s scandal-ridden NCAA sanctions. And the Chancellor basically told Coach Smith, I don’t care whether you win or lose, just run a clean program.

He had a great team eventually, but what people don’t realize is in those early years, he was not that successful, and at one point, I think it was during the 1964 season, two years into his coaching tenure, he was hung in effigy, not once, but twice, by the student body, and he had lost a game in Durham against Duke that he was supposed to win, and he came back and there he was, his face and body hung in effigy at Woolen Gymnasium where they played those games then, and then he lost another game against, I think, Wake Forest that he was supposed to win, and the same thing happened twice, and Jimmy Smithwick, who was a player on that team then told me that Coach Smith got on the bus, and he said to the team, gentlemen your character is what you think of yourself.

Your reputation is what other people think of you. Emphasize character. And it’s so interesting that he told the team to learn from their failures but use those failures to get better and better. And then as he began to get better and better players over the next couple of years in recruiting, he built great teams there.

But he always felt like you can’t control your reputation. You can’t control what other people think of you. You can control your character. Make sure that’s always in place. And that’ll be the basis of really being a good player that produces good teams.

[00:15:31] Tommy Thomas: I purchased your book It’s How You Play The Game – The Leadership Principles of Dean Smith. It’s just a great read and I had circled some things in it.  You write that Coach Smith thought of himself as a benevolent dictator. How did that play out?

[00:15:46] David Chadwick:  He had a great relationship with Bill Guthridge, who was his assistant coach for 36 years and Coach Guthridge was a great basketball mind and a really good human being.

I think it was Leonard Bernstein who once said the most difficult position to play in the orchestra, was a second fiddle. And Bill Guthridge played second fiddle to Coach Smith for 36 years and did so well, but there was never any question, Tommy, about who ran that program. It was Coach Smith’s program, and he oversaw it.

Now he got plenty of input from Coach Guthridge and when Eddie Fogler was his assistant, Roy Williams was his assistant, and others, he would get their input, but it was his decision and he ran the program the way he wanted to run it and you know what, as that benevolent dictator he had as his highest concern us as his players.

But he also had a great concern to run his program well and to win games because, you know what, you don’t remain a head coach for all of his years unless you win games too.

[00:16:52] Tommy Thomas: You write that the concept of team may be Coach Smith’s greatest contribution to basketball leadership in society.  Can you unpack that a little bit?

[00:17:02] David Chadwick: There were several principles that I took away from him and have tried to live by in my life. One of them would be the team is more important than the individual. The other would be to always care for the individual. And then thirdly, your personal character is very important for success.

I alluded to that earlier, but that one idea of the team being more important than the individual would be one of Coach Smith’s, if not his greatest contribution to basketball and to my life. You just can’t succeed unless you have other people on board with you. You’ve got to work with them in order for success to occur.

Coach Smith just had this amazing ability to take high school superstars and bring them together in an environment where we each accepted our roles, our place on the bus, to use Jim Collins’s word, and then to have a successful team come out of that. And we all were willing to sacrifice our own personal accolades for the sake of the team and if you didn’t believe that you wouldn’t last a month playing under Coach Smith, he just wouldn’t put up with people who didn’t buy that mantra.

[00:18:14] Tommy Thomas: I guess I didn’t watch a lot of basketball when Michael Jordan played basketball, but he was obviously great there. But how did that work when you got somebody at that level? And there might have been other people who were just as good as Michael Jordan. How do you mold that kind of person into a team?

[00:18:32] David Chadwick:  I obviously didn’t play with Michael Jordan, but I played with Charlie Scott, who in the late 1960s was the Michael Jordan of that day. Charlie was the first black recruit to the University of North Carolina’s basketball program, and he was just a great player. And yet, Charlie submitted his talents for the sake of the team.

And I think Coach Smith just made that team mantra so important that even the greatest of players felt like at the end of the day, it was better for them to win for their larger success in life to occur than it would be for them to have personal accolades. And Tommy, Coach Smith did things behind the scenes that developed that team idea.

And it’s still being done today, years after his own death and years after I played. For example, when you score a basket, you have to point to the person who gave you the pass. That was Coach Smith’s way of making sure that the person who sacrificed the basketball so somebody else could score and get all the accolades and the headlines got notoriety so that everybody in the stands and everybody watching on TV would see the person who scores pointing to the person who gave the pass.

And, that was his way of thanking others who made you successful. And if you didn’t do that, you would not only be taken out of the game, but the next day, the whole team would have to run. He would punish the whole team if somebody didn’t point to the person who gave them the pass in the game the night before.

So he just developed this team idea, this team atmosphere with things like that. Another example would be if you dove on the floor for a loose ball, sacrificing your body for the sake of one possession, which could very well determine a win or not. The person who dove on the floor has to run and help them up.

And if in watching the game films the next day Coach Smith notices that doesn’t occur he’s taken out of the game and also the whole team has to run. So you just see, he developed little small innuendos of developing that team that even the greatest of players, the Michael Jordans, the Charlie Scots, or whoever would submit themselves to again, for the sake of the team.

[00:20:44] Tommy Thomas: You have a quote in your book that says one characteristic of every leader who took his company from good to great was humility. How did that play out?

[00:20:57] David Chadwick: Oh, my. With Coach Smith, so many different ways. A couple of ways just in what I just shared with you, and that is people on the team making sure that others get accolades, get the finger pointed at them, the thanking for the pass.

But other ways, Coach Smith would always believe that teams win games, players win games, and coaches lose them. And he would never throw a player under the bus. Even if that player made the dumbest decision to lose a game, he would never throw that player under the bus. And that was one of his mantras to the press he would use all the time.

Players win games, coaches lose them, and Tommy, I was a part of one of Carolina’s most disappointing losses ever. We played South Carolina when they were still in the ACC Tournament Championship game, and there was a jump ball at the end of the game that somehow went to the South Carolina player who laid it in at the buzzer, and we lost the game.

And I was in the game at the time, and I wondered, was I in the wrong place? Did I cost Carolina that game? A couple of decades later, when Coach Smith was coaching, I went to Chapel Hill and was visiting with him. And I just said to him, Coach, I’ve always wondered, was I the reason we lost that game?

And I just wondered, was I not in the right place? And he looked at me. Tommy, 20 years after I played, he said, David, he said, coaches lose games, players win them. If you weren’t in the right place, which I’m not sure you weren’t, but he said, that’s my fault. And I take responsibility for it. Then he wouldn’t talk about it anymore to make my soul soothed a bit and make sure I didn’t feel like I’d lost that game.


[00:22:38] Tommy Thomas: In your book, you write about Coach Smith’s relationship with other coaches, Bobby Knight, and people that he coached against. On the one hand, they were fierce competitors, on the other hand, they were great friends. What lessons do you take away from that?

[00:22:55] David Chadwick: I think Coach Smith saw competition as healthy and valuable.

Again, as we talked about earlier, it helps show you where you are as a team and as an individual. Are you growing, getting better, etc. But he never looked at opposite coaches as enemies. He just didn’t.

And Bobby Knight and Dean Smith could not have been more unalike. I think it was Bobby Knight who said to me when I interviewed him for the book that I wrote he said, Dean Smith’s the master of the four corners offense.  I’m the master of the four-letter word.

Tommy, I played for Coach Smith for four years, obviously, and knew him as a friend for years thereafter. I never once, and you can talk to any former player and ask them this question. Never once heard Coach Smith curse. Never once. He just didn’t do it.

He always told us you can think of a better word. Don’t show people how stupid you really are. You can think of a better word and Bobby Knight knew that, but it didn’t stop him from swearing like a sailor. But Coach Smith and Bobby Knight were very close friends. They had personalities so different, but they were very close friends, with great respect for each other.

So I think it shows that you can be in an industry and you can have competitors, but they don’t have to be your enemies. And indeed, if you look at them as good competitors, they only allow you to measure yourself to see how good you really are.

[00:24:13] Tommy Thomas: One day, sooner or later each of us is going to meet our maker.  And I’m just wondering, what did you learn about death and dying from Coach Smith?

[00:24:22] David Chadwick: He had a real faith, and I outlined it in the book that I wrote, and I don’t think it was as avert or evangelical faith as some would have wanted him to have, but he gave millions of dollars to the poor and needy.

I know that for a fact. I know he deeply cared for his players. Some people don’t know this, but after he died, we all got a letter from his estate manager, and we all got a check from his estate for $200, with a personal letter sent to all of us, the 200 plus lettermen who played for him, that basically said, take out your wife or your special person on me to dinner.

And that’s just the kind of person that he was. He realized that life was about giving, not getting. Life was about caring, not always wanting yourself to be the center of attention. And we talked a lot about this life, and he realized, you came into this world with nothing, you’re going to leave with nothing.

He had very committed Christian Baptist parents from Kansas. They instilled faith in him. I didn’t see him much right before he died. He was in a cognitive dissonance state. He just couldn’t think clearly. But the times that we would talk about faith, I got no impression from him that he feared death.

And that he believed that he would meet his maker with his sins forgiven, but also a litany of good deeds that he did to serve our Lord. If you know your Bible, you’re judged to be forgiven first of all, and then you go before the seat of the Lord. Get your reward of works, your good works that you’ve done because you love him.  And I think Coach Smith got some really nice crowns for all of his good work.


[00:26:11] Tommy Thomas: Next week, we will continue this conversation with David Chadwick. He returned to the United States after three years of playing professional basketball in Europe, he had to decide what he was going to do when he grew up. After much soul searching, he surrendered to God’s call upon his life to be a pastor. He served the local church as pastor for the last 40 years. Next week, we will see how he applied the life and leadership lessons that he learned from team sports and in particular from Coach Smith in the context of pastoring in the local church.

“If you weren’t willing to sacrifice your personal accolades for the sake of the team, you wouldn’t last long playing for Coach Smith.  He wouldn’t put up with people who didn’t buy that mantra.” -David Chadwick

Links and Resources

JobfitMatters Website

Next Gen Nonprofit Leadership with Tommy Thomas

Moments of Hope Church

Books by David Chadwick:

Moving Beyond Anxiety: 12 Practical Strategies to Renew Your Mind

Hearing the Voice of God: He Knows You, He Loves You, He’s Always with You

It’s How You Play the Game: The 12 Leadership Principles of Dean Smith

Eight Great Ways to Honor Your Wife


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