Smith isn't criticizing. His Broncos have never beaten North Carolina, and though Smith has built one of the nation's powers—Santa Clara surrendered just three goals while going 19-0-1 this past regular season—he marvels at Dorrance's ability to create such an attitude. "The rest of us struggle with it," Smith says. "I ask my team to outfoul opponents, and they won't do it. I don't know why. I can't get my players—and no one else can get theirs—to be more aggressive. When we try it, we have chemistry problems, because some players think it's wrong. How does he do it?"
Today, Tar Heels players buy into Dorrance's insistence that they "take pieces of flesh" or "destroy" each other in practice because this has resulted in 15 national championships and sent more than 30 Carolina alums to the national team. But when Dorrance took on the brand-new Tar Heels women's team in 1979, he had no idea how to talk to his players, much less motivate them. "Total nightmare," he says. He called players by their last names, kept a lofty distance, tried coaching the women just like his men. He was so standoffish—"robotic," according to his first recruit, Janet Ray-field—that when he began loosening up the following spring, the players were taken aback. After he approached a struggling Rayfield during one drill and asked whether anything off the field was bothering her, she snapped, "Anson, don't patronize me!"
Rayfield didn't know: Dorrance was beginning to get in touch with his feminine side. The balancing act of coaching both the men's and women's teams had revealed his ignorance of women in galling fashion. In doubleheaders he'd bounce from one team to the other without shifting gears, and once when he barked orders at the girls on the field, one player turned to him and said, "Anson, sit down. This is the women's team." He sat down. He read Ms., Cosmopolitan, every piece of feminist literature he could find. A friend of M'Liss's gave him a copy of Carol Gilligan's book In a Different Voice, and it confirmed what he'd begun to suspect: Men and women think differently. He had to coach them differently. "Men respond to your strength," he says. "Women respond to your humanity."
It didn't hurt that North Carolina, which had the first varsity women's soccer program in the South, soon began to land much of the nation's top soccer talent. Within three years the Tar Heels had won their first national title. As Heinrichs puts it, "Anson got a 50-yard head start in a 100-yard dash." But Dorrance watched his players and decided that just gathering talent wasn't enough.
"Here's an example," he says. "I had this guy warm up my team in the early '80s. He was studying exercise physiology at UNC, and it was unbelievable what he did: The women were in a lather, doing agility stuff—just an incredible warmup. They were so ready to play, and I was thinking, A gift has been given to me. But a month and a half into the season, our morale was shot. I couldn't put my finger on it. Finally we went back to our old warmup: The girls come to the field, put on their shoes for five or 10 minutes, and in groups of twos and threes they catch up on their lives. Then they jog around the field and end up in a place out of my earshot, stretching. But they're not really stretching. They're socializing. Our morale returned in two weeks.
"It was a wonderful lesson, a reminder of what's important. Men put their shoes on, they stretch, they play. But our team socializes at every opportunity, and that's as much a reason for our success as the fitness training we do. That 15 minutes it takes for them to put their shoes on and jog around and stretch is a total waste of time, but it's critical for team-building."
What's also critical, M'Liss believes, is how her husband works at connecting with his players. "One by one, by letting each one know he cares about her, he lets each one know she's valuable to the team," she says. Team parties are held at the Dorrance house. No one is left out. He writes his players letters or notes, some several times a year. "I would appreciate that: Everybody treating me like I was important," M'Liss says.
By Rayfield's senior year, 1982, Dorrance had also begun encouraging his players to contest every ball in practice, every drill, every one-on-one showdown. Taking a cue from Dean Smith, he kept a detailed record of every player's performance in practice and posted the results. Intensity kicked up a notch, and younger players refused to genuflect to their elders. "We wanted him to step in and make the freshmen be nicer," Rayfield says, "but he just ignored us."
The next fall, Heinrichs joined the team, and Dorrance got his first experience in handling what he calls "witch hunts"—the tendency of female teammates to tear down a superior player. "When I was recruiting April, she kept asking, 'How does your team get along?' " Dorrance says. "And I kept thinking, Who cares? As a player I hadn't cared if I got along with anyone as long as he got me the ball. I didn't know.
"But the first two weeks of April's career it dawned on me why she'd asked. She annihilated everyone—carved up all the freshmen, sliced up all the sophomores, humiliated all the juniors and pasted all the seniors—and guess what? None of her teammates supported her. They came into my office: What are you going to do about April? And I was thinking, Clone her? I thought she was fabulous. Here was this resentment against her excellence. And though she wanted to be liked, she wouldn't lower her level of performance to be like everyone else: wonderfully mediocre. We built our tradition on her back."