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The Daily Tar Heel

Lacrosse coach puts family first

Breschi rebuilds his alma mater and his life

When he came back to his alma mater two years ago, he brought his coaching philosophy with him. DTH Photos/Mike Ehrlich
When he came back to his alma mater two years ago, he brought his coaching philosophy with him. DTH Photos/Mike Ehrlich

Lacrosse practice ends as players huddle at midfield, with arms raised and a shout on three.


One man stands in the middle of it all — a historic resurgence, a turning point and a huddle of 44 brothers.

In coach Joe Breschi’s second season, North Carolina is ranked No. 3 nationally heading into this weekend’s ACC Tournament.

That success may serve as proof of one family rebuilt.

But before he could do that, Breschi had to rebuild his own.

“We knew no matter what happened in our move down to UNC, whether it was the right fit or not the right fit, we were going to survive it,” he said. “Because we had been through the worst of times, and we had been able to get through it as a family.”

For Breschi, survival gave way to success. But family came first.

Coming back

When Breschi sat before UNC athletic director Dick Baddour in an interview for North Carolina’s coaching vacancy, he had to make a confession.

“I love Ohio State,” he said. “And I love everything about it.”

When Breschi arrived at OSU in 1998 for his first head coaching job, the program promised no scholarships, no wins and little else.

Seven winning seasons and three NCAA Tournament bids eventually proved those promises to be empty.

But when Breschi considered leaving Ohio State, he was not merely leaving behind 11 years of success.

He was leaving a place that had seen his family through its greatest loss.

On March 1, 2004, Breschi’s wife Julie was buckling their two younger daughters into their minivan when their 3-year-old son Michael wandered away.

Moments later, he was struck and killed by a car in the parking lot of his nursery school.

“A fluke accident,” Breschi said. “A tragic accident.”

In the months following, Breschi’s young children helped him and his wife get out of bed.

The OSU family brought him back to the lacrosse field and onto his feet.

Even six years later, the Michael R. Breschi Scholarship remains the largest memorial scholarship in the OSU’s athletic department.

“One of the things my wife Julie and I said after the loss of Michael was, you never knew how many friends you had,” he said.

“And you wish you never had to find out how great people are because they care so much about you.”

Four years after Michael’s death, Breschi received an opportunity to move back to his alma mater.

It also meant leaving another family behind.

In his interview with Baddour, Breschi had first admitted his appreciation for OSU.

But he had quickly followed it with an exception.

“That’s the only reason I’m here,” he said. “The only place I would leave Ohio State for would be the University of North Carolina.”

The alma mater might have had an edge, but another family had to come first.

Could his wife and four daughters handle another monumental change? Could he?

The next morning, Julie approached Breschi with a card.

“She wrote a beautiful letter,” he said. “It said, ‘I’m 100 percent in.’ That kind of said, ‘let’s take another chapter in our life and move forward with something that is special.’”

The letter was written in a card for Dad. The offer had been received on Father’s Day.

“The loss of Michael gave us the courage to make the move,” he said. “To make this life-changing move.”

Immediate success

Freshman William Scroggs recognized a close-knit team from his time at Naval Academy Preparatory School.

What he saw at North Carolina was entirely different.

“The program up there was just really close because they are going to be fighting in wars together,” he said.

“But here, it’s a family. I feel like every one of these guys on the team is my brother.”

When Breschi arrived in 2008, he brought a philosophy that outlined three new commitments for the program.

Family. Academics. Lacrosse. And in that order.

“It took a while for us to get used to his new motto, the new atmosphere that he brought,” junior Billy Bitter said.

Breschi’s emphasis on acting as a family included time on the field, off the field and even in his own home.

Breschi and his wife regularly host all 44 players for dinner, while his players have played host to Breschi’s four daughters.

And when the family-first philosophy began to translate into wins, no one could complain — not even about the 6 a.m. practices.

“This year, in the second year under him, everyone decided to be here at 6 a.m.,” Bitter said. “Everyone’s hard-hitting in practice, and everyone’s always smiling at the end.”

And this far in the season, they have good reason to.

In his first season, Breschi led UNC to its best start since 2002.

This season’s 10-0 start was the best since 1991, when UNC went undefeated en route to the program’s last national championship title.

Lacrosse may come last in a list of priorities, but the team’s pursuits for a title are hardly an afterthought.

“We’ve had two goals the whole season, to win the ACC championship and the national championship,” senior midfielder Sean DeLaney said.

“So those goals haven’t changed at all. That’s our expectation right now.”

Finally home

Breschi recalled looking at his daughter Samantha last year as she marveled at 70-degree weather in mid-March.

For eight months, he had watched his oldest daughter struggle with her new life. And for months, he had wondered about his decision.

But that day, the 7-year-old sat before her father and made a confession.

“Dad, I love it at North Carolina,” she said. “And I want to stay here forever.”

This time, there would be no exception.

“That’s the moment I’ll remember,” he said. “Her saying — us saying — that we’ve arrived, and we’re here for good.”

For Breschi, survival had given way to success. And there he stood, taking it all in.

“That was the first moment I said, ‘You know what, this was the right move,’” he said. “And we have finally turned a corner.”

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