As the two shared a glance, a beaming smile broke out on Palladino’s face before the two veterans parted ways to collect their fair share of runaway practice balls.
Dorrance couldn’t help but smile back.
Don’t call it a dynasty
Measuring the success of coaches can be relative.
For some, success is simply winning a game — coming out on top of the opponent. For others, the goal is to put together winning seasons.
And for the hopeful or the optimistic, the goal is to compete for a national title.
When Palladino and Dorrance first started at UNC, neither had any idea their careers would be characterized by the latter.
“Our lives far exceeded our every aspiration,” Dorrance said.
For Palladino, he had no idea he would ever become a coach, let alone a 22-time national champion.
“When we started, we had no idea what we were doing,” Palladino said. “I was trying to figure out how to coach women for the first time, not how to win a national championship.”
Few achievements in the history of sports match the dominance of UNC women’s soccer. Alongside each other as coaches, Dorrance and Palladino have ended nearly twice as many seasons raising the national championship trophy than not.
In 36 years as an assistant coach, Palladino and his team have won 22 national championships, more than every other school in the country combined.
Dorrance and Palladino didn’t build a dynasty, they built an empire.
Dino and Dorrance
Soccer was only introduced to Palladino when he was in middle school. The Chapel Hill native’s only opportunity to play soccer growing up came through a summer league.
But Palladino’s calling was on another field — or at least he thought.
“I wanted to play baseball in college,” Palladino said, “But I eventually realized I wasn’t going to be the next Mickey Mantle.”
After attending East Carolina University, Palladino transferred back to Chapel Hill and eventually tried out for UNC’s soccer team. The same year, Dorrance made the trek from Saint Mary’s University to UNC to play soccer, as well.
Dorrance the midfielder and Palladino the defender found themselves in similar situations, forced to redshirt together for a year as transfer students.
It didn’t take long for the two to form a bond.
“I liked him from the beginning, everybody did,” Dorrance said. “He’s just a very warm guy, and a great guy to be around.”
Only years later, while the two were pursuing graduate degrees, would they start coaching together. In 1980, Palladino joined Dorrance’s coaching staff.
The friendship between the two was forged through soccer, so it only made sense to mold their soccer careers around friendship.
In 36 years together, Palladino and Dorrance have never been coworkers.
“One of the top criteria for enjoying the workplace was if your best friend was at work,” Dorrance said. “The way I saw it, I got to go to work and hang out with Dino.”
As friends before colleagues, the two coaches developed a chemistry that has only grown in the 36 years they have spent alongside one another.
And the players take notice.
“Seeing the bond that they have together, we use that as a model,” senior midfielder Katie Bowen said. “As a team, that’s what we’d like to act like towards each other. That’s the kind of chemistry we want to have on the field.”
Dorrance knocked on Palladino’s office door and poked his head in.
He had just heard of a new opening for a head coaching position at another school, and he knew Palladino could be the perfect man for the job.
But then again, so were the other countless coaching positions Dorrance suggested to Palladino.
“I felt my moral obligation was to try to find him a great head coaching position,” Dorrance said. “But he never seemed to have any interest.”
This time would be no different.
Dorrance returned to his office, and then it was Palladino who came knocking.
“A few minutes later, he came into my office and asked me, ‘Anson, do you want me to leave?’” Dorrance said. “I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘I don’t want to leave.’”
It was as simple as that.
“That’s typical to the extent of the depth of a heartfelt conversation between two males,” Dorrance said.
From that day, Dorrance has not offered Palladino another head coaching job, and Palladino has never asked for one. It was clear both were going to be Tar Heels for life.
In 2013, Bill Palladino retired as the assistant coach at UNC — sort of.
Palladino now acts as a volunteer coach for the Tar Heels, a title which means little to the assistant.
“I still hold all of the same responsibilities as a full-time coach,” Palladino said. “So in that sense, nothing has changed.”
Palladino still schedules games, leads numerous practices and holds all of the other responsibilities of a full-time coach. In fact, Palladino still runs the UNC soccer camp, as well.
“There’s nothing really volunteer about it,” Dorrance said. “None of the critical elements of Dino’s job have changed at all.”
Whether serving as a full-time or volunteer coach, it’s clear that Palladino will be a part of UNC’s staff for a long time. And while the day might arrive when Palladino actually retires from coaching, he’ll probably still find a way to stay involved.
But Dorrance hopes the day never comes.
“I want to coach into my 70s, and I hope Dino does too,” Dorrance said. “Then, we can drift off into the sunset as a pair of doddering old 70 year-olds.”