The WEEKLY’s Matt Dees sat down with UNC Women’s Basketball Coach Sylvia Hatchell on the occasion of her 900th win. “901,” she was quick to point out when congratulated on the milestone Monday, the day after a hard-fought two-point victory over Georgia Tech. She began her career with Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C., before the Gastonia native and lifelong Tar Heel fan got her dream job here in 1986. She is the second winningest coach behind Pat Summit, and led Carolina to the 1994 national championship. Her husband, Sammy, is now an assistant coach for the Shaw University women’s team, which just won a Division II national title, and her son, Van, was a reserve on the UNC men’s team and is now setting his sights on an MBA. We sat in her Carmichael Auditorium office, crammed with memorabilia from a coaching life, and talked about this year’s 22-3 team, her plans for the future and how the 60-year-old can still shag with the best of them.
On the 900th win, against Boston College on Feb. 7:
The pressure was building up. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. It may have had a little effect on our Duke game. I was glad to get it over with, because it wasn’t about me. It was really about the kids and the experience they have. They were wanting to win it for me, I know. I was glad to get it so we could move on. Before the game, I had charged my phone. After the game, it was dead because I had had so many texts, 60 or 70. My voicemail was full. Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Phil Ford, lots of my coaching buddies. That was great to hear from all those people.
On this year’s Tar Heels:
We’ve had six games this year so far that have been determined by five or less points, and we’ve won them all. This is a tough group. They just have a never-say-die attitude. That makes me and the other coaches want to work that much harder, because they’re good kids and they’re coachable. I’m looking forward to the rest of this season. I think this team can make a lot of noise come tournament time.
On landing – and keeping – her dream job:
I interviewed at Indiana, Florida, Texas A&M and South Carolina. But I was waiting for the right opportunity. One of the reporters called me and said, “Are you sitting down?” I said, “No, but I will.” He told me the job at the University of North Carolina just came open. Everyone knew this was my dream job. They called me the next day. There were five candidates, and the other four were from Division I schools. I interviewed with John Swofford, who was athletics director at the time. I said, “Mr. Swofford, I want this job, and I don’t care what you pay me.” The first year we went 19-10, but then we had three really bad years. I remember during that time, it was about 6:30 p.m. and I was coming out of the weight room here. John was meeting with Mack Brown, who had just come off his second 1-10 season. John came out, and he just put his arm around me and said, “You are my coach, and I believe in you.” And then he just got in his car and left. I wanted to win so bad for John Swofford because of that.
On her future with Carolina:
I want to keep North Carolina as one of the top programs in the country. I’d like to win a few more championships. We have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country coming in next year. I’m just as passionate now as I ever was. I feel great. I look in the mirror and say, “Who is that?” because I feel like I’m 25. I know I’m not, but I am very healthy.
On life outside of basketball:
When I’m in Chapel Hill, I work all the time. For me to relax, I have to get away. That’s why I love the beach and the mountains. I have a place near Black Mountain, and a place just on the other side of the South Carolina border. In the mountains, we have a three-level log cabin on 204 acres. I got a big ol’ bear walking around up there. He doesn’t bother me, but he did pull my phone line out of the ground. We also have 140 blueberry bushes. I have signs everywhere for it. It’s on the honor system. People come pick berries and then write a check to the Lineberger Cancer Center. Here, we’re part of the Eno Beach Shag Club. We like to shag dance. We don’t compete. They’ve tried to get us to compete, but I said, “I do this to get away from competition.” TW