May 27, 2005
by Rick Brewer, Sports Information Director Emeritus
Given his background, it would seem to be little surprise that Anson Dorrance is the best soccer coach in America.
Before coming to Carolina as a student in 1970, he had spent the majority of his life in places where soccer was generally the most popular team sport-- Asia, Europe and Africa.
But, when Dorrance was inducted into the state of North Carolina's Sports Hall of Fame last week he said he really didn't learn much about the game until he came here.
"Marvin Allen is really the man who introduced me to soccer," he said. "It wasn't until I joined his team at Carolina that I found out how the game should be played."
Allen was the man who pushed to make soccer a varsity sport after World War II. He served as the Tar Heels' coach from 1947 to 1976 with a two-year absence in the early 1950's for a second period of naval duty.
His teams won 174 games in 28 seasons. That total would have been even greater, but most schools in the South didn't begin playing until a decade later. It wasn't until 1958 that Carolina could even fill out a 10-game schedule.
In fact, it was Carolina's soccer program that was almost certainly a factor in other southern teams beginning teams of their own.
While Allen's success may have been one of the keys in the growth of soccer in this area, Dorrance has been the driving force behind the explosion of women's soccer in the entire country. He has coached the Tar Heels since its inception in 1979.
His early Carolina teams dominated the sport so completely that other schools had to begin putting more emphasis on their programs in an attempt to avoid embarrassment. The Tar Heels went 10-2 in 1979 with most of the games against all-star club teams. Carolina outscored the opposition, 56-2, in six games against other colleges.
The Tar Heels went 21-5 in 1980. Then in the next 20 years Carolina posted a combined record of 436-23-10, winning 17 national championships.
In an eight-season stretch from 1986 to 1993 Dorrance's teams were 181-1. Four times in that period Carolina gave up fewer than 10 points in an entire season. That includes a remarkable scoring advantage of 96-2 in 1987.
On two separate occasions Carolina has had winning streaks of 103 and 101 games.
The school's all-time record in the sport is now 580-26-17. That's a winning percentage of .940.
The Tar Heel women's soccer program has perhaps turned into sports' greatest dynasty. All others fall short in comparison--the Yankees, the football teams at Notre Dame in the 1940's and Oklahoma in the 1950's, UCLA's basketball teams of the late 1960's and early 1970's and even Carolina's basketball teams of almost the past four decades.
Dean Smith once told some media members, "We're a women's soccer school and our basketball team is just trying to keep up."
Behind that success is a man who Allen once called "the toughest 145-pound player I've ever seen." Dorrance was a three-time member of the All-ACC team as a halfback here.
He majored in both English and philosophy with no initial plans of getting into coaching. But, he fell in love with the game and, after a year at St. Mary's in San Antonio, he returned to Chapel Hill as Allen's assistant.
After Allen's retirement following the 1976 season, Dorrance was named the head coach. He would coach both the men and women until 1988. He took the men to the men's Final Four in 1987. But the demands of handling two nationally prominent teams became impossible so he gave up the men's job and concentrated solely on the women's team in 1989.
Like any great coach Dorrance builds his teams in practice. And they aren't very easy.
"I've watched Coach Smith's practices and gotten so many ideas from him," he says. "We chart everything we do and rank our players on how each practice goes. No one wants to be near the bottom of the list so we get full effort in each one."
As opponents have tried to keep up with Carolina there has been an obvious need for better players to fill those rosters. That's led to more interest on the sport on the high school level.
Dorrance was one of the key people in organizing Rainbow Soccer, the program which fills soccer fields throughout Chapel Hill at all times of the year. Youth soccer programs across the state and the nation have mushroomed. There are now more "soccer moms" in the country than "little league moms."
The U.S. National Team has also become one of the best in the world. Dorrance led the Americans to the championship of the first women's World Cup when it was played in China in 1991. His players, of course, have dominated the U.S. national Team, in both World Cup and Olympic competition.
Mia Hamm has been the face of the sport for over a decade. Her participation alone has sparked even greater interest in the sport among young girls.
And on many occasions she has pointed to Dorrance as the reason for her success.
"He's really the person responsible for the popularity of women's soccer," she once said. "He deserves all the credit possible."
He got some last week at the Hall of Fame dinner.