Chapel Hill stretches of I-40 to honor Dean Smith, Roy Williams

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Thursday, December 9, 2021
Chapel Hill stretches of I-40 to honor Dean Smith, Roy Williams
NCDOT OK'd a request to honorarily name stretches of Interstate 40 in Chapel Hill for former Tar Heel basketball coaches.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- University of North Carolina coaching legends Dean Smith and Roy Williams are getting a new honor.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation formally granted a request by Carolina Athletics to honorarily name stretches of Interstate 40 in Chapel Hill for the former Tar Heel men's basketball coaches.

Signs will go up designating stretches of I-40 from exits 266-270 the Roy Williams Highway and from exits 270-273 the Dean Smith Highway.

"Dean Smith and Roy Williams are two of the greatest to ever have coached college basketball," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a release. "And while their combined five national championships helped make UNC one of the premier basketball institutions in the country, it is their work off the court and in their communities that truly sets them apart. North Carolinians across the state are grateful for their leadership and these honorary road namings will help us recognize them for their hard work and sacrifice."

Williams, who retired on April 1 was the head coach for 18 seasons at UNC and served as an assistant under Smith for 10 years. Smith, who died in 2015 at 83, served as an assistant for three years before a 36-year run as head coach.

Combined the two Hall of Fame coaches led North Carolina to five NCAA championships, 16 Final Fours, 16 ACC titles, 33 top-10 Associated Press rankings and 1,364 wins.

The stretch of I-40 that honors Smith includes NC 15-501 (at exit 270) and NC 54 (at exit 273), both of which lead directly to the basketball arena that bears his name, the Dean E. Smith Center.

"This is a tremendous honor," said Kristen Smith Young and Scott Smith on behalf of Smith's wife, Linnea, and his five children. " We are grateful to the Town of Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Department of Transportation for arranging this lasting recognition. Though we know our dad didn't want to be in the spotlight, he traveled these roads often both as a recruiter and a competitor. We hope as others drive through this area, either coming to Chapel Hill, supporting a home or rival team or are just passing through, they might have a positive memory of Coach Smith, about a game, the basketball teams he coached or time spent in this town and at the University."

The Roy Williams Highway extends from NC 86 at exit 266 to NC 15-501. The court at the Smith Center is named for Williams.

"I'm flattered and consider myself to be a very lucky person to receive such an honor," Williams said. "This came as a complete surprise. I never had an idea this was in the works. It's something our family and friends will share with a great deal of pride and will mean even more years from now as our grandkids and their families can see those signs with pride and enjoyment."

Williams said one part of the highway that will honor him (which begins at exit 266) is especially meaningful for him.

"A long time ago when I was an assistant coach, I used to help my friend Russ McCormick clear the land in the forest right by NC 86," Williams said. "For several years, the nice lady who owned the land there gave us permission to collect firewood on her property. The day the state took ownership there were 18 trucks to replace Russ and me, but I spent many memorable days out there."