Anson Dorrance Enters His 43rd Season of Coaching Soccer at UNC

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Assistant Editor Hannah Lee chatted with the UNC Women’s Soccer head coach after his team won its first game on the field now bearing his name

Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletic Communications

Congrats on your first win on Dorrance Field. After everything you’ve accomplished, how does it feel to have the field named after you? 

Having this field named after me is, holy cow, is it extraordinary. I’m incredibly proud of, not just of having a field named after me, but having a field of this quality named after me. When I sit in my office, which is basically enclosed in glass, I have a chance to look out on this field every single day. Basically, it’s a legacy of every extraordinary player [who’s] played for me, but also [longtime women’s soccer assistant coach] Bill Palladino [who] recently just stepped back. He and I were great partners in creating this soccer dynasty. It’s a tribute to all of us. And then, of course, the old cliche of Chapel Hill is [that it’s] the “Southern Part of Heaven.” The way I look at it – because it’s so extraordinarily beautiful – is now I have a piece of heaven named after me, and I don’t think it could ever get any better than that. 

What was your immediate reaction when you found out?

Obviously, it’s overwhelming. It fills me with immense of pride because I absolutely love this university. I’m a proud son of the University of North Carolina. I’ve certainly had opportunities to take other positions. The first temptation I got was [when] the U.S. women’s national team offered me [the chance] to coach full time back in 1991 … right after we won the world championship in the United States. But it was an easy decision for me to stay just because I love everything about the university and collegiate coaching. I am a native North Carolinian. This is their flagship university, and to have a piece of a flagship university of my home state – I’m basically in heaven. The last 70 years of my life has been spent between Teague [Residence Hall] (the dorm I lived in), the law school I dropped out of, and, of course, the small piece of land in between, Dorrance Field. So in a way, my home has been named after me, and that’s extraordinary because I was born and raised all over the world.

You use the word ‘home’ often and talk about your ties to the university as a part of that. Are there any other reasons you love Chapel Hill so much? 

My brother, Pete Dorrance, is in the restaurant business here, and he’s a member of the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group. I love all of his restaurants, and I frequent all of them. 411 West is one of my favorites. So was Spanky’s, which is now Lula’s, and also Squid’s. For almost every gathering for my team, he is the caterer. I’ve got not just my personal ties to the university, but I [also] have my brother who went here and who’s established himself here. And, of course, I raised my kids here, and the last thing they want [my wife], M’Liss, and I to do is sell our house or to change their rooms. They come back on a regular basis and were back this past weekend. My eldest daughter, Michelle, who is a world-famous rhythm tap dancer, and then my middle daughter, Natalie, who married a litigating attorney in Greensboro. And then my son, Donovan, who is [Dorrance Dance] music director. They want everything the way it was. And I understand it, because we love our kids and love our home. So we’re gonna stay in this thing as long as we can manage the stairs. 

We were researching youth soccer league Rainbow Soccer for this issue and saw your name on an old coaching list. How did you first get into it?

[My introduction to] Rainbow Soccer was [through] a friend of mine who played with me on the UNC Men’s Soccer team named Kip Ward. Kip and I became friends just because we trained together in preparation for our seasons when we were undergraduates at UNC. And I really liked Kip. He was a good friend, and he had the vision to say, “Let’s start this recreational soccer league.” He embraced everyone, and then made it coed, which was positive, certainly in light of where I ended up in coaching. The thing that was amazing is [that] my soccer coaching resume, when I applied to become a soccer coach at UNC, was Rainbow Soccer. That was my only coaching experience. So I joke with my colleagues about coming from basically the grassroots.

How have you seen the game change at the national level since you were the national team coach?

The game has gone to a completely different level. It improves every single year. But it’s changed in the right way. Back when we started the game, it was much less sophisticated. Now it’s a very sophisticated game, and we’ve contributed players every step of the way. I’m very proud of that. Back in 1991, when we won that first world championship, of the 18 players on the roster, nine were current or former Tar Heels. Even this past World Cup on the 23-player roster, we had five [Tar Heels] in the World Cup and, in 2015, we had six. Someone did some math and said that of our four world championship teams, one out of three players on the four rosters were Tar Heels.

Why do you continue to coach? After all this time, why not retire and go spend time with M’Liss and the kids?

I absolutely love it. I wake up in the morning and can’t believe the job I have. I have all kinds of wonderful relationships because of it. My relationships with these extraordinary young women extend way back to 1979 when it started. I get to watch the arc of their lives. A lot of them stay in touch on a consistent basis. For me, that’s immensely satisfying as you see them pursue careers and climb ladders and raise families. There’s nothing richer in my life than having a young woman come back or send me an email on what she’s up to. For me, it’s just the richness of these relationships that buoy my life in the most extraordinary way. 

M’Liss is obviously very tolerant of the amount of time it takes. I’ve got a staff right now that work themselves to death to give me more freedom than I’ve ever had. Damon Nahas and Chris Ducar, my two assistant coaches, and now Heather O’Reilly, who’s going to be my volunteer coach. Tom Sander does all the paperwork for me, and he has an assistant, Corey Emerick, who also does a lot of work. And then Brittani Bartok, our social media director. What’s wonderful about all these people is how hardworking they are and how much they take off my plate. I signed a five-year contract last year with UNC, but I have a 10-year contract with Nike. So I can certainly [turn those] five years into 10, and with the amount of work all my staff is doing and how much fun it is, honestly, I don’t know when I’m going to retire. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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