The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday December 7th

Coach's Philosophy, Talent Define Career

The man who later would become the winningest women's soccer coach in NCAA history saw his North Carolina men's team lose to Central Florida in overtime. His women's team later tied CFU on that hot August Sunday in 1986.

Dorrance's daughter Michelle challenged her dad to a game of Chutes and Ladders to cheer him up after the doubleheader. He paid little attention during the game and didn't realize he had lost until the 7-year-old burst into tears. He felt horrible for being so distracted that he had ignored his little girl. He looked at her and gently asked what was wrong.

"Dad, I just wanted you to win something today."

Defining a Dynasty

Dorrance smiles at the memory, and rightfully so. Losing is not something he has often faced in 21 years at UNC.

He picked up his 500th win against Clemson on Thursday night, has captured 16 out of 19 NCAA championships and has won almost 95 percent of his games. Forty of his former players have played on the U.S. National Team, and 24 play in the WUSA.

His name has been uttered in the same breath as John Wooden of UCLA's basketball program and Dan Gable of Iowa's wrestling program, and no one bats an eye. Dorrance has earned his place among the best.

Just a Part-time Gig

But it almost never happened. Dorrance once wanted to be a lawyer.

He enjoyed his part-time coaching job with the UNC men's team in the late 1970s, but surely that wasn't real work. He seemed destined to be a corporate lawyer for his father's oil refining company.

But then-UNC men's soccer coach Marvin Allen had something else in mind when he recommended Dorrance for the men's head coaching position. "Doctor Allen saw something in me that I never saw," Dorrance says.

Bill Cobey, UNC's Director of Athletics at the time, took a risk on the unproven 23-year-old.

"I can't think of any better decision I've made," Cobey says. "It's like telling someone to run the 100-yard dash in under 10 seconds and have them do it year after year after year. How could you possibly expect someone to produce those type of results?"

It didn't take long for Dorrance to produce the results Cobey wanted and give up on his law degree.

"I never thought of coaching as an intellectual pursuit," Dorrance says with a smile.

In 1979, Cobey asked Dorrance to take a look at the women's soccer club team and offered him a full-time job to coach both the men's and women's teams. Dorrance accepted, taking on Cobey's challenge to find the best female players in the country and build a tradition.

Soon the double duties, on top of his law school classes, became tiresome, and Dorrance sat down with his wife to discuss his options.

M'Liss Dorrance, a professional dancer, looked at her husband and said the words he was waiting to hear: "Something has to go."

She already knew in which direction her husband's heart was leading him.

"This is your passion. I followed something I was passionate about," M'Liss told him. "There is nothing more rewarding."

Mars and Venus on the Field

"Men and women are fundamentally different," Dorrance says.

Feminists might cry sexism, but Dorrance's coaching philosophies are considered groundbreaking and insightful by most who understand the game.

"When I first starting coaching, I resolved to treat the women exactly like men," Dorrance says. "What happened was a remarkable failure."

So, Dorrance went back to the drawing board and with the help of his players came to understand perhaps the most confusing creature on the planet -- the woman.

Dorrance also has fostered an unrivaled level of competition in his team's training sessions.

"The way he motivates people -- that's his strength," says Connecticut women's soccer coach Len Tsantiris, the only other coach to have led his team to every NCAA tournament. "Anson always wants to compete."

Which is why, on a board not far from where his players chat while changing into knee socks and cleats for a 2:30 p.m. practice last week, stats are displayed for everyone to see.

"I glance at the charts every day to see where I am," says senior defender Danielle Borgman. "I always want to beat the person above me and keep the person below me where they are. Those charts play a crucial role in practice."

After Borgman checks her statistical status, practice starts. Soccer balls are kicked in every direction, and Dorrance separates the starters and reserves. Today, he begins practice with a simple keep-away drill.

His eyes stay focused on his starters' legs. "We're getting better at this; now let's translate it into the game," Dorrance says while circling the keep-away boundaries. The intense training lasts two hours.

"It's a real art, keeping focused in training and getting your team prepared psychologically," says Santa Clara women's soccer coach Jerry Smith. "Nobody -- I mean, nobody -- can come close to what (the Tar Heels) have accomplished, in any college sport. They are unmatched."

Similarly unmatched is the unity found between Dorrance and his players. Many former players turned coaches still turn to Dorrance for words of wisdom.

U.S. National Team coach April Heinrichs received her best advice from Dorrance while dealing with pestering parents in a northeastern youth soccer league.

"He told me, `You can't let people drive you away from what you love,'" Heinrichs says.

Ten years later that advice would prove invaluable to Dorrance.

The Case

On Aug. 25, 1998, two of his former players -- forward Debbie Keller and goalkeeper Melissa Jennings -- filed a sexual harassment suit against Dorrance and the University, alleging he had sexually harassed them and caused them emotional distress while they were on the team. The players sought $12 million in damages.

Former and current players rallied around their coach, professing loyalty to a man who served as a father figure to many of his players. After the media caught wind of the suit, which remains buried in a Greensboro federal court, more than 100 players signed a letter supporting Dorrance.

"There's a kind of nobility in the way you handle the tough times," Dorrance says.

With that nobility in hand, Dorrance marched on.

Winning Isn't Everything

Later that year, Dorrance stood in a media holding room with former UNC stars Cindy Parlow and Siri Mullinix, laughing and joking to pass the time before a press conference.

The Tar Heels had just failed, for the third time in 17 years, to win the national championship after a semifinal loss against Florida.

When Dorrance and his players' chuckles were heard by members of the media, many were aghast.

Didn't the No. 1 team in the country just lose?

"Someone asked me about it during the press conference, and that showed that they didn't know what the UNC program is all about," Parlow says.

"It's so much more than winning national championships.

"It's a family.

"We wouldn't trade any of that for a championship ring."

500 and Counting

After all the stadium lights had gone out Thursday night, Dorrance's son, Donovan, juggled a soccer ball near the steps of the McCaskill Soccer Center.

Counting, counting, counting ...

Each tap seemed to come easier than the last, as the younger Dorrance let the ball, and the game, run their course.

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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