He was a four-year starter on close defense for the Tar Heels from 1980 to '83. Now he's been handed the responsibility of rekindling the fire that once burned so brightly within the program.
"There was a lot of excitement, and we were very successful," Haus said. "And, obviously, the key to having people come out and watch you is if you're successful and you win games. And we were. At that time, I felt we were the best program in the country."
Haus was named head coach in June, replacing Dave Klarmann, who resigned after 10 seasons. The Ruxton, Md., native came to UNC from Johns Hopkins, the most successful and storied college team in the sport, after leading the Blue Jays to consecutive NCAA final four appearances in his two seasons.
"I never personally envisioned where I thought I would end up being," Haus said. "I just tried to work hard and do the best job I could, and I felt if I did that then I'd be at a university or a college that was going to be best for me."
He holds the reins of a program that has been in a downward spiral since its fourth and most recent NCAA championship in 1991. UNC finished 8-6 last season, missing the NCAA tournament for the third time in four seasons. The Tar Heels are 1-11 in ACC play since 1996 -- the last time they won the conference championship -- with a 26-29 record overall.
It is a program that has also been marred by tragedy. Three players have died during the past six years, enveloping the program in an eerie somberness.
The team needed something to kick it out of its doldrums. It thinks it has found it in John Haus.
"Coach Haus is such an intense guy, and it just seems to rub off on everyone around the program," UNC senior defenseman Hunter Sims said. "Not taking anything away from Coach Klarmann -- I think he's a good coach too. It's just a different feel this year, and I think it's going to pay off, not only this year, but in the long run, too."
Willie Scroggs is counting on it.
A UNC senior associate athletics director, Scroggs coached the Tar Heels from 1979 to '90, capturing three NCAA championships. Scroggs recruited Haus out of Loyola-Blakefield School and was instrumental in bringing him back as coach.
"This is not an exaggeration. John Haus was the most intense player that we've ever had here, that I've ever coached and that I've ever seen since I've stopped coaching," Scroggs said.
"I can remember when he was a freshman in the weight room with the weight staff. I said to all the coaches, 'Look at this kid. Look at how he's working. He's going to be an All-American.' This was when he was a freshman, and he hadn't even played a moment for us.
"He played every practice as hard as he possibly could. And we had players that were better players than John, that were better athletes, but we never had anybody that worked at the same level every day that he did."
Haus was named a first-team All-American his junior season and second-team as a senior.
In the spring of 1988, Haus was hired as defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins. During his tenure, he coached nine All-American defensemen and goalies, and the Blue Jays went to three final fours, including the national championship in 1989.
Tony Seaman, who took over as coach at Johns Hopkins in 1991, said Haus' discipline, deep knowledge of the game, focus and intensity made him an effective coach. Seaman also involved Haus in recruiting and quickly learned that the boyish handsomeness of the young coach was a valuable weapon.
"I always made sure he knocked on the door first and talked to the mom first because usually they fell in love right away," Seaman said. "When you're recruiting players, you're also recruiting the moms, and he always made a good impression."
But it hasn't been looks alone that have made Haus a persuasive recruiter.
"I think he's real sincere," Scroggs said. "I think people can sense that. He's a no-nonsense guy. Some people can kind of tell when people are kind of phony and glad-handers. John's quiet, but I think that people can sense that he's got an inner strength, an inner confidence."
That recruiting touch served him well when he was lured to Washington College, a Division III school in Maryland, in August of 1994. Without any athletic scholarships to offer, Haus brought in 24 recruits after finishing the 1995 season 6-8.
In 1996, the Shoremen advanced to the national final, falling in overtime to Nazareth.
After the game, Haus gathered his team together.
"Unfortunately, you won't play for another national championship," Haus said to his seniors.
He stopped and looked at the rest of his players, the ones who would be returning next season.
"But you will," he said.
"From the moment he said that," said Andy Taibl, a sophomore at the time who would be named goalie of the year the following season, "we all believed that with him as coach -- we always had the talent -- but as long as we had him, we never felt we were the underdog going into any game. It was amazing the confidence we had looking at our own sideline."
In 1997, the Shoremen advanced to the national final, falling in overtime to Nazareth again.
The next season, Washington faced Nazareth yet again in the final. But there was no overtime this go-round as the Shoremen rolled to their first title
16-10, and Haus became the only man to win a lacrosse title as a player and a coach on any level.
Towson came calling. Haus interviewed with the Baltimore university during a three-week period in the summer of 1998 and felt good about his chances.
Suddenly, in late June, Seaman was forced to step down at Johns Hopkins. A little more than a week later, Seaman was Towson's new coach.
Haus was devastated. He had interviewed with a score of Division I programs -- including UNC -- with no luck before hooking up with Washington, and now what seemed a sure thing had slipped away.
"I thought, 'Oh, here we go again. I've been turned down for another Division I job,'" Haus said. "And then Johns Hopkins contacted me and said, 'Would you be interested in this position?'"
It was a strange twist of fate, and Haus, wounded by the Towson experience, was skeptical. He agreed to an interview, then nearly called the day before to cancel.
He didn't. A day after the meeting, Haus was given the controls to a program that had claimed 49 national championships but hadn't advanced to the title game since he was defensive coordinator.
Haus, however, wouldn't stay long enough to have a major impact on the program. He guided the team to its two final fours largely on the strength of players Seaman had recruited but did rally the Blue Jays from a 1-3 start last season to eight straight wins.
The day of last season's championship game, Haus got a call from a UNC athletic department official.
That was it for Haus. He was going back to Chapel Hill with his wife and high school sweetheart Lisa and their sons: John, 10, Will, 8, Luke, 5, and Grant, nine months.
Haus said he and his wife don't plan on packing up boxes and calling for moving vans to come to their newly built house in Chapel Hill any time soon.
"The two of us feel that this is it," Haus said. "We're not moving again. As long as I do my job and handle that side of things, we feel comfortable in Chapel Hill, and we want to stay here."
In UNC's season opening 12-7 win against Fairfield last week, 450 fans showed up at Henry Stadium. No ticket distribution was necessary.
But give Haus time. He still has a few memories of a program that used to be the best in the country.
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