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Tar Heel Firsts: UNC’s first soccer coach

The history of soccer at Carolina can be traced back through the life of one man.

NCAA Men’s College Cup - Semifinals Photo by Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images

The history of women’s soccer at North Carolina has all come under the guidance of one person, Anson Dorrance. The story goes that he was the men’s coach in Chapel Hill, agreed to expand his duties at the creation of a women’s team, proceeded to have unprecedented success while coaching some legends of the sport, and is still there today, 21 national championship later.

However, in order to tell the history of the sport at the school in general, you actually just need to look at the man that coached him.

Born in Wilmington, Marvin Allen attended UNC in the mid to late 1930s. While a student, he helped found and was a member of the first club soccer team at the school. He would be the scorer of the very first goal in team history, netting one against Duke.

After he graduated, he would come to work at the university, teaching in the physical education department. Allen would then again play a key role, helping get the club team elevated to varsity status. Athletic director Bob Fetzer (as in the man the former field was named after) made Allen the first ever coach of the varsity men’s soccer team.

Apart from two seasons in the 1950s during which he was serving in the military during the Korean War, Allen coached the Tar Heels from 1947 to 1976. In that time, he led UNC to a .667 winning percentage. They won three conference titles and went to the NCAA Tournament in 1968, losing to eventual national champion Michigan State. (It should be noted that the NCAA Soccer Tournament only started in 1959, otherwise his NCAAT big total would probably be higher.)

All of that is pretty formative in the history of the sport in Chapel Hill, but his biggest and best of those moves might have been an assistant coaching hire.

Dorrance played for Allen at UNC, making three All-ACC teams, graduating in 1974. For the 1976 season, Allen hired him as assistant coach. After his retirement, Dorrance was elevated to men’s head coach starting in the 1977 season.

Dorrance coached the men’s team from ‘77 to ‘88. He led them to a pair of NCAA Tournaments, and a national semifinal appearance in ‘87, winning national coach of the year. In the last couple years, he overlapped coaching the women’s team as well. Considering that in that time, he had already led the women’s team to six national titles, he understandably stepped aside from the men’s team.

While they haven’t reached the level of success the women’s team has had (because there aren’t many teams in any sport anywhere that have), the men’s team has had a good run themselves. They’ve won three national titles, the most recent coming in 2011.

UNC men’s basketball have famously had just five coaches since 1952. However prior to Frank McGuire, there were numerous coaches, some of which only led Carolina for one or two seasons. When it comes to soccer, you can very directly connect the lineage back to one man.