First-year golfer Nicole Adam was on the hunt to find the ball she just hit over the green at the Palmetto Spring Invitational in February. She stopped suddenly in her tracks when she saw her ball – just a few feet away from a fully-grown alligator.
A stunned Adam stood still. But head coach Jan Mann had other ideas.
Mann sprang into action and drove straight at the alligator in her golf cart, pushing the gator back in the water. Mann parked right at the water’s edge and without hesitation, grabbed Adam’s nine-iron and wielded it like a sword in case the creature came back for more while Adam made her next hit.
Adam said that story is the epitome of who Mann is as a person: fiercely strong, determined, protective – the most beloved mentor. It’s how the team will remember her.
Mann, who has led three collegiate women's golf programs for 25 years, is retiring after spending the last 12 seasons as head coach of the Tar Heels. She was named ACC Coach of the Year two times, one of these at UNC in 2011, and led the Tar Heels to an ACC title in 2011. But amongst these accolades, her golfers will remember their love for her the most.
“She's been like a second mother to me,” Adam said. “She’s always been there, always wanting to help me. She's my golf coach, but she's much more than that.”
Mann called a team meeting last Tuesday to make the announcement to her players. After months of spending more time at home with her husband John and their kids during the pandemic, she felt it was time to take that leap into her next chapter. The team sat down and Mann took a deep breath before breaking the news.
“Nobody knew what to say,” senior Ava Bergner said. “Then a bunch of us started crying and coach started crying and couldn’t go on with her speech. I was really emotional.”
For both Berger and Adam, Mann was one of the greatest perks of coming to UNC. And her departure is a great loss.
“I was very shocked that she was going to be leaving, but I tried to keep it together,” Adam said. “Because I just want her to know that we love her and will always love her.”
While making the announcement was difficult, Mann knew she made the right choice. Quarantine gave her time for her kids and grandkids, and pursuing her personal passions from refurnishing a sailboat to sculpting. Mann knows she’ll miss being with the team, but her decision to stay in Chapel Hill for the foreseeable future allows her to still be connected to UNC athletics.
“I'm a very competitive person and I love to win, but it's all about the relationships that you establish with your players, with your student-athletes, just watching me grow as they come in as freshmen as they graduate,” Mann said. “Those relationships are just priceless.”
Berger and Adam both said that Mann has always created the most uplifting team environment. While many think golf is a purely individual sport, Mann created a team sport at UNC. They believe in each other, want the best for each other and support each other. It all started with Mann, who would even take on an adult alligator for her players.
She deserves retirement, they said.
“Coach Mann is a very accomplished woman and she's done so many things throughout her life, aside from golf,” Bergner said. “So with that being said, the thing that I wish her most is just happiness, and to read what she wants to read and to live the life that she wants to live. What I wish for her is that she can enjoy her retirement as she deserves.”
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