"Your hair was shining in the moonlight," Anson said.
"I carried that with me for a decade," M'Liss says.
The Dorrances moved a lot: Asia, Africa, Europe. Anson played all kinds of sports, never had a scarring experience. When he was 15, his father, Pete, grew angry at him and uttered what Dorrance calls "my favorite quote: 'Anson, you're the most confident person without any talent I've ever met.' I looked at him and said, 'Dad, I'm taking that as a compliment.' Of course that pissed him off even more. All these different environments constructed a great confidence without any skills. It's amazing."
But it wasn't the environments that formed him. It was his father. Pete Dorrance was a combustible, razor-witted man universally described as intimidating. He loved nothing more than dissecting flawed reasoning. Ask anyone what makes Anson so infuriating as an opponent and exceptional as a coach, and you'll hear of his verbal agility. "He stereotypes men and women, and he does it with flair," says former Yale coach Felice Duffy.
"A lot of guys are as competitive as Anson, but no one is as verbally combative," says Tar Heels assistant Palladino.
Or, as one of his former players, Mark Devey, puts it, "Conflict isn't an issue with Anson. It's a desire."
That comes from Pete. His cocktail-hour demolitions enthralled Anson as a boy, and when Pete finally turned his attention to his oldest son, a joyous battle was joined. The two argued over everything—history, politics, culture, the time of day. "I loved him with a passion, and I loved his strength," Anson says. "Though he wasn't athletic, he was significant in forming my athletic character. He wouldn't allow me to back down from any challenge.
"Once, when I was a freshman in college, I was arguing with him, and he was starting to become heated. My mother was there, and I was pretending to read a newspaper, holding it up to my face, flipping comments over the top of the paper, and he was getting angrier and angrier. My mother told me to put the paper down and look at my father, and I refused. It was my declaration of intellectual independence from him: I can fence with you."
Anson graduated from the Villa St. Jean school in Fribourg, Switzerland, in 1969. He stood 5'10" and weighed 135 pounds. He spent the next fall term at a small college in San Antonio, getting "beat up every weekend" when he and his rugby teammates brawled with locals in pool halls. Bored academically, he transferred to North Carolina, and within a week the intramural sports organizer for his dorm had approached him. "If you want to win," Dorrance told him, "put me on every team." He excelled at softball, wrestling and badminton, and was voted the campus's outstanding intramural athlete. After red-shirting with the soccer team during his sophomore year, he started as a junior, and as a fifth-year senior he was elected team captain. "He'd come off the field, and if he wasn't bleeding from both knees, he wasn't happy," says former teammate Kip Ward.
During Christmas break of 1972 Anson became engaged to M'Liss, now a professional dancer, with whom he had been reunited at various family gatherings. They were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony a few months after Anson graduated in 1974. Around that time Ward lured Dorrance into coaching a team in his youth recreational soccer league. It was supposed to be relatively low-key, but, says Dorrance, "I was never into recreational anything. So I went over to Ridgefield, which was a black neighborhood, and recruited the best athletes and paid their league fees. I put them right down the middle—one at center back, one at center half and two at my inside forward positions—and we rocked. I trained them to win. These other coaches and parents would say, 'You're taking it too seriously,' and I said, 'If winning doesn't matter to you, fine. But we've discovered our morale's a lot better when we win.' They didn't like that we just tromped everyone."