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UNC Basketball History: The man before the fun fact

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You’ve probably seen the stat about how many coaches UNC has had since 1952. Here’s the story of the coaching change that started that run.

North Carolina Head Coach Hubert Davis Hiring Announcement Photo by Jeffrey Camarati/Getty Images

With the coaching change all over the new lately, there’s a stat going around that you’ve probably seen several times recently. When UNC takes the floor next season, Hubert Davis will be just the sixth North Carolina Tar Heels’ men’s basketball head coach since 1952.

It’s a fairly remarkable fact for a school and fan base that has such a high bar for success. It’s even more remarkable considering that two of the coaches in that six each only lasted three years each.

That group of six starts with Frank McGuire, who was hired ahead of the 1952-53 season. Within a couple years, he had led the team to the school’s first national championship. Dean Smith replaced him and turned the program into one of the most consistent and successful in the country.

There is a very clear starting point for the UNC coaching fun fact: 1952. Yet, there was basketball at the university prior to that. Let’s dig back into the history books and look a time before Roy Williams, before Smith, and even before McGuire. Let’s look back at what eventually led to the changes that ended with the Tar Heels becoming the legendary program they are today.

In 1945-46, Ben Carnevale led Carolina to their second ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They made it to the final of the eight-team tournament before falling to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State). However after the season, Carnevale left to take the head coach job at Navy. To get his replacement, UNC turned towards the midwest.

The choice to take over was Central Missouri coach Tom Scott. A former high school coach, Scott had led the Mules to four conference championships in five seasons across two stints.

In his initial seasons in Chapel Hill, he kept up where his predecessor left off, leading Carolina to 19-8, 20-7, and 20-8 seasons in his first three years. However, they didn’t bring home any Southern Conference championships, and in the years of small fields, no NCAA Tournament bids either.

Things then started to dip starting in 1949-50. With a small recruiting budget and a limited ability to attract players, UNC fell to a 17-12 record. The next two seasons were ever worse. Despite getting off to good starts in both ‘50-51 and ‘51-52, Scott’s teams both finished with losing records those years. Identical 12-15 records weren’t enough to get into the Southern Conference Tournament those years, never mind the NCAA Tournament.

Things began to get restless around the program, and Scott decided to take the offramp. He took an AAU coaching job back in the midwest, leaving after six seasons in charge at UNC.

Looking to make a big name hire to compete with Everett Case at NC State, Carolina managed to hire St. John’s coach Frank McGuire. Despite coming off a NCAA Tournament championship game loss and UNC seemingly being a step down, he took the job, and the rest is history.

As for Scott, he would later return to the state, taking the coach and athletic director job at Davidson. He finished below .500 as a coach there, finishing up after the ‘59-60 season. However, he stuck around as AD and made some pretty good hires. To replace himself on the sidelines, Scott hired Virginia high school coach Lefty Driesell. After Driesell left for Maryland following three NCAA Tournament bids, Scott hired Terry Holland. Holland would lead Davidson to an NCAAT appearance himself before leaving for Virginia. Scott retired from his AD role in 1975.

As it turn out, things mostly worked out in the end for Scott. However, they especially worked out for UNC.

Sources

https://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/26/obituaries/tom-scott-basketball-coach-85.html

https://ucmathletics.com/documents/2020/8/18//2020_21_MBB_Record_Book_Results.pdf?id=7669

https://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/coaches/tom-scott-1.html

https://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/coaches/frank-mcguire-1.html

https://davidsonwildcats.com/honors/hall-of-fame/tom-scott/92

https://s3.amazonaws.com/sidearm.sites/unc.sidearmsports.com/documents/2020/11/24/2021_Record_Book_web.pdf