Winning a national championship is hard. Building up a program to become a perennial championship contender is even harder.
No person knows that better than Chris Ducar, the longtime UNC women’s soccer assistant coach who was promoted to general manager of the team in September. In his 26 years with the program, Ducar has helped lead the Tar Heels to nine NCAA championships as an elite goalkeeper coach and recruiting coordinator.
When Ducar arrived at UNC in 1996, the young coach was splitting time between Chapel Hill and Greensboro, where he was working part-time for UNC-Greensboro’s team.
“The first initial reason for hiring was just to bring him in to make sure we took care of something that was critically important. I mean, holy cow is your goalkeeping important,” Head Coach Anson Dorrance said. “And so we had to bring in someone that understood how to do it, who was very good at it, who would commit himself to it.”
In his first few years, Ducar proved he was a valuable asset to the team, willing to dive headfirst into any task placed before him. In 1998, Dorrance asked him to take charge of the program's recruiting and become a full-time coach.
“It was overwhelming at first because I had no background in this," Ducar said. "I was basically thrown in the deep end."
But within a few seasons, he began to excel in the recruiting game. In order to get an edge on competing programs, Ducar developed a strategy to land the best recruits early.
“I looked at the way recruiting was going, and I said, ‘Hey, we are the name brand in women's soccer. Why are we doing it like everybody else?’”
Traditionally, teams would begin scouting players during their junior year of high school, start communicating with them over the summer and then take them on official visits during their senior year.
Ducar pioneered a new method of recruiting by inviting top prospects on unofficial visits to Chapel Hill early and verbally offering them a scholarship. Soon, UNC was winning more and more recruiting battles against other elite programs.
“That paradigm worked really well for us until everybody else figured it out," Ducar said. "Then it became a wild west in my opinion, and it ended up hurting us, because now all these other schools are recruiting earlier and earlier. So that was really kind of frustrating, but I created it, right? That was my monster that I created.”
Because of Ducar, UNC landed gems like Heather O'Reilly and Tobin Heath early on in their playing careers, and he started consistently bringing in highly ranked recruits each season. In recent years, he has delved into international recruiting while establishing connections with players and coaches across the globe.
By the time he reached his 26th season, Ducar was operating in so many different roles that, in a way, he was already working an administrative position. In typical North Carolina fashion, Dorrance stayed ahead of the curve by forming a new general manager position.
“This was, in my opinion, the final level for him, because we wanted to put him in charge of everything,” Dorrance said. “And so I think what'll end up happening is the other soccer programs across the country will see his impact for us, and they'll start to consider making a similar move.”
Ducar will continue to help with recruiting, albeit from a more office-based approach. His new responsibilities include fundraising, coordinating game-day promotions and overseeing the program’s Name, Image and Likeness program.
On North Carolina's current team, Ducar had a hand in recruiting the likes of first-year forward Emily Murphy from England and senior goalkeeper Claudia Dickey.
Currently, his foremost goal is to get as many people out to games at Dorrance Field as possible.
“The kids playing for us now, a handful of them will be full national team players for their country," Ducar said. "They'll play in Olympics, they'll play in World Cups, and they're here right now. And every student can watch them for free.”
Those around Ducar seem to have no doubts that he will excel in his new role, just as he has with every other step up the ladder for the past 2 1/2 decades.
Brittani Bartok, a former player recruited by Ducar who now serves as the team’s marketing and social media coordinator, said it all comes down to his deep-rooted passion for the program.
“He loves what he does," Bartok said. "He loves the people that he works with and that shows in his work.”
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