The day after Dean Smith won his one and only national basketball championship at North Carolina, in March 1982, he stepped out of his plush office and crossed paths with Tar Heel soccer coach Anson Dorrance. Dorrance was heading toward his own office, which at the time happened to be the upper-right-hand corner of a secretary's desk in the athletic department. Dorrance began to congratulate Smith, but the exalted basketball coach gently cut him off.
"Anson," came the familiar nasal twang, "all we do around here is try to keep up with women's soccer."
Smith wasn't kidding. Under the 36-year-old Dorrance, the Lady Tar Heels are well on their way to their sixth national championship in seven years. They have won 95% of their games in their nine-year history and have a 78-0-2 record at home. Last Saturday they extended their unbeaten streak to 47 with a 2-0 win over William & Mary in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill. North Carolina's program is so successful these days that Dorrance hardly has to recruit; he pretty much takes his pick of the country's best high school players.
"Our women are the model for how the women's game should be played," says Dorrance with his crisp delivery. "Winning is not enough. We want to win attractively."
November 23, 1987
Dorrance's achievements are all the more impressive because he also coaches the Carolina men's team—with only slightly less success. He has led the men to 11 winning seasons and this year to their first ACC title since 1966. In a first-round NCAA tournament game on Sunday, the Tar Heels eliminated defending national champion Duke 2-0.
In leading the Tar Heels to a combined career record of 318-62-24, Dorrance has shown an aptitude for working with both sexes that Dr. Ruth might envy. "Anson is so confident in any environment," says Carrie Serwetnyk, a senior forward on the women's team. "He's amazingly adaptable."
Given his background, it's not surprising. The son of an international oil executive, Dorrance was born in Bombay and at various times in his childhood lived in Kenya, Ethiopia, Singapore and Belgium; at each stop, he found that his soccer skills helped him gain acceptance. Still, his psychic roots were in North Carolina, where he spent many summers on his grandfather's farm in Louisburg. So Dorrance chose Chapel Hill for his college work, where he majored in English and philosophy and was voted All-ACC in soccer three times.
Dorrance's coach at Carolina, Marvin Allen, noticed his passion for the game and, when he stepped down in 1976, recommended Dorrance as his successor. Dorrance immediately led the Tar Heels to their best season in 30 years. When North Carolina started its women's program in 1979, Dorrance was again the pick for the job.
At first, Dorrance was determined to "coach women exactly as I did men." But by 1981, when the North Carolina women went 19-0, Dorrance had decided that women and men could not be motivated the same way. "When the men play poorly, it's better to throw an absolute tirade," he says. "They have to be driven. But women want to know that things are O.K., and that they can get better. What's important is the tone. They've got to feel that you are not upset with them."
The approach has been successful, although Dorrance has spent a fair number of cocktail parties under attack as a sexist after enunciating that theory. Those encounters aside, Dorrance has become something of a big man on campus. His office has grown from a desk corner to a room in a ramshackle stucco building known as the Soccer Hut, a place that is as important a symbol for soccer devotees as the resplendent Dean Dome is for basketball fans. But he still approaches the game with the enthusiasm he had when he was the new kid in a strange country. "Now," he says, "on those rare days when I only train one team, I feel naked."