Argue with a Carolina fan long enough and they’ll eventually bring up how UNC stands for the ‘The University of National Champions’. In 2016-17, that moniker was earned yet again, fair and square, via many broken hearts (theirs, not ours) and many championships. It’s not just basketball—yes, that banner will look great next to the other six in the Smith Center, but you’re just barely scratching the surface if you stop there.
In the last five years alone, the lacrosse teams—both men’s and women’s—were national champions in 2016. Women’s tennis won championships in 2013 and 2015, the men won in 2016. The football team won the ACC Coastal in 2015, and the Diamond Heels reached the College World Series in 2013. Overall, UNC has won 43 national championships between 28 sports. By all means, Chapel Hill is home to the University of National Champions.
43 championships doesn’t happen by accident—you can thank Carolina’s coaches for that, and man, do we sure have an array of world-class coaches. Of course, there’s Roy Williams, but the coaching prowess at the University of National Champions goes far beyond one man. There’s Anson Dorrance, head coach of women’s soccer, who is along the most decorated coaches in any sport, college or otherwise, thanks to his 22 national championships.
Then there’s Karen Shelton, head coach of the field hockey team for 36 years. Like Dorrance, she has built the program from the ground up, nourishing it into what is now one of the premier field hockey programs in the country, with six national championships under her belt. Sylvia Hatchell, head coach of women’s basketball, has cemented her place on the Mount Rushmore of women’s college basketball with 990 wins, fourth all-time.
There’s Jenny Levy, head coach of women’s lacrosse, who has established a dynasty in the last nine years, reaching six national semifinals and winning two national championships in that time. I could go on all day. Look far and wide, and you’ll struggle to find another school with so many coaches of this caliber.
We are spoiled. We are just so spoiled to be UNC fans. Sometimes, I find myself wondering how rough it must be being an NC State fan. This level of multi-sport success is extremely hard to sustain, but we’ve been doing it for decades and decades now. And therein lies the problem: all of the coaches previously listed have been coaching for well over 20 years now, most 30, some 40.
“I don’t think any of them are going to retire next year, but Anson Dorrance can’t coach forever,” Senior Associate AD Rick Steinbacher recently said in an interview with Tar Heel Blog. “He’ll try, but he can’t. I think Roy Williams will coach for a very long time, but he can’t coach forever. Same thing with Mike Fox, with Donna Papa in softball, with Karen Shelton in field hockey. We’ve just got some awesome coaches who have had amazing success. So I think sometime, not in the near future but the mid-to-longterm future, we’re going to have to replace some of them. They’re not going to be easy to replace because they’re great people who do things right and win at the highest level.”
Indeed, the idea of replacing UNC’s aging coaching staff is daunting at the least, downright depressing to think about at the worst. But if that’s UNC’s biggest problem—our coaches are just so good at their jobs that it’ll be difficult finding adequate successors—then it just goes to show how dang spoiled rotten we all really are.
These are the golden days of the University of National Champions, these last two years, from basketball to lacrosse to tennis. Heck, 2015 even sported uncharted waters for the football team. But these days aren’t going to last. One day, Anson Dorrance will retire. One day, Karen Shelton will retire. One day, Roy Williams will retire. But that day isn’t today, and UNC continues sailing smooth waters.
In the coming years, I urge you to catch a game or two in Chapel Hill to see some of these coaches in the flesh. Their passion, their drive, their fire—it’s unmatched, and it is a privilege to watch with your own eyes. It will be an uphill battle finding other people with that same fire. In the meantime, don’t fret. These are the glory years, the days you’ll tell your grandkids about. So sit back with a dadgum Coke and enjoy the show.