CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A significant era in the history of University of North Carolina athletics came to an end on Thursday.
Following a two-week investigation into student-athlete welfare issues reported in the women’s basketball program, Hall of Fame head coach Sylvia Hatchell resigned her position after leading the program in NCAA play for the past 33 years.
“It has been the great honor and privilege of my life to coach at the University of North Carolina,” said Hatchell in a prepared statement.
“I want to thank John Swofford for giving me my dream job 33 years ago. The University will always hold a special place in my heart. The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away. This is an idea I have been contemplating since my cure from leukemia. This year, after defeating Notre Dame, the top-ranked team in the country, and returning to the NCAA Tournament, our program is once again headed in the right direction and ready for new leadership.
Wonderful UNC memories remain — none more special than our 1994 national championship, three Elite 8s and nine ACC championships. I’ve been fortunate to coach more than 200 young women, and it has been a joy to see them grow into successful teachers, doctors, lawyers, mothers, high school and college basketball coaches, and WNBA players. The opportunity to play a small role in their success is the greatest joy of coaching– and of my life. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my assistant coaches and staff for their loyalty and support. They are remarkably talented and accomplished individuals who helped pave the way for our success as a nationally-acclaimed program. The championships we won would not have been possible without their contributions.
While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong. After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing. I am grateful that God granted me more days on this earth to continue my calling as a coach. I have always believed that we are blessed so we can bless others. My goal has been to plant enough seeds to reap a good harvest. Today, I can truly say that my harvest has been abundant. Now, I will turn my attention to supporting the University in different ways. I will continue to raise money for the Lineberger Cancer Center, to establish a ministry of exercise and recovery for cancer patients and to push for equal facilities and treatment for women’s athletics. I currently have a proposal pending before the NCAA Gender-Equity Task Force to increase the number of former female basketball players in coaching. I will forever love the University of North Carolina. I am Sylvia Hatchell, and I am a Tar Heel.”
The beginning of the end
Led by athletic director Bubba Cunningham’s initiation of a review of the program following allegations of racially insensitive remarks made by the coaching staff and issues of improper medical treatment related to student-athlete welfare, an external entity, Charlotte-based firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, reported the following:
- Hatchell made comments that were racially insensitive, and when confronted by players and staff did not respond ina timely or appropriate manner. The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist, but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.
- Players and medical staff expressed frustration with perceived and undue influence from Hatchell regarding medical issues and pressure to play. Despite Hatchell’s questioning of player care, status and readiness, the medical staff did not surrender to pressure to clear players before they were medically ready.
- There has been a breakdown of connectivity between the players and Hatchell.
The findings, based on evidence gathered from 28 interviews of current players and personnel connected to the women’s basketball program, led to steps to initiate a change in the leadership of the program.
As part of the statement issued by the Athletic Department, Cunningham stated:
“The University commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction. It is in the best interests of our University and student-athletes for us to do so.
“Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it. We appreciate her 33 years of service to Carolina and to the community, and we wish her the best. Our focus now is on conducting a search for a new head coach who will build on our great Carolina traditions and promote a culture of excellence.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport