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135-pound coach 'worth the risk'

Anson Dorrance's life was never the same after 1976.

First, the law profession lost a potential lawyer and, second, the Church gained a young man headed for the top of his profession.The changes began when Dorrance,a recently graduated star soccer player, walked into the spacious athletic director's office at the University of North Carolina, expecting to be asked for his opinion on who the school should hire as the new soccer coach.

The old mentor, Marvin Allen, was retiring and had recommended to then-athletic director Bill Cobey that Dorrance take his place. Dorrance had coached youth soccer teams and directed a successful summer league program, but the 24-year-old law student had little college coaching experience.

But that didn't stop Cobey.

"Anson, how do you like the idea of taking the job here?" Cobey asked.

"I almost died on the spot," Dorrance remembered. "North Carolina is a big-time athletic program. And for the athletic director to gamble on a young, inexperienced 135-pounder - that was a big risk."

"I've never been afraid to hire someone who has potential," Cobey said. "I just marvel at what he [Dorrance] has accomplished. He likes people, has goals and objectives, and is a morally upright person. . . . He's quick to give others credit for the team's success."

"My only dimensions as a player were that I hustled and had some quickness," he said. "As a coach, my work ethic started to have a greater impact."

In his first season at the UNC soccer helm, Dorrance guided the Tar Heels to their best record in 30 years. His men's teams have been winning ever since, reaching the Final Four of the NCAA soccer tournament in 1987. He was featured in Sports Illustrated in November, and in January, he was named Coach of the Year for Division I men's soccer.

Ironically, Dorrance is better known as coach of the women's team at UNC. Since 1979, he has coached both teams, and his women's team has become a sports dynasty.

Six of the last seven women's national soccer titles have been won by the UNC team. After two of those championship seasons, Dorrance was named Coach of the Year for NCAA Division I women's soccer. He's the first to have received the award for men's and women's soccer. In coaching both, he said, the men must be driven and the women need to be directed.

One of his women's players, Carrie Serwetnyk, told Sports Illustrated, "Anson is so confident in any environment. He's amazingly adaptable."

Dorrance learned to adapt as a youth. His father was an international oil executive. Dorrance was born in Bombay, India, and later lived in Ethiopia, Belgium and Singapore.

"Everywhere you go it's a new experience," he said of traveling throughout the world. "It gives you a cosmopolitan attitude and teaches you about tolerance for different cultures. You learn that all people are the same."

He attended a boarding school run by Marionists priests and brothers in Fribourg, Switzerland. The instructors were theologians who taught their students to question things.

"My questioning showed me there were some aspects about the religion I was reared in that weren't as spiritually rounded as I would have liked them to have been," Dorrance said. "The seeds of my conversion to the Church were planted by excellent teachers."

When he lived in Ethiopia, he met M'Liss Gary, the daughter of a military attache. Several years later, while she was dancing in the ballet in New York City, they began seeing each other again and were married. They were living in a one-room apartment when Dorrance invited over two LDS missionaries he had met while selling life insurance door-to-door. The missionaries also were going door-to-door.

"I asked them what they were selling. One of them said, `Invite us over, and I'll tell you.' I said sure."

His wife, he said, is much more spiritual than he is, but when the elders first visited, she "dove into the bedroom and refused to come out."

She said it was more a case of bad timing. Even on the missionaries' second visit, she was busy cooking dinner. "But the conversation became so interesting that I couldn't cook and listen at the same time," she recalled. She joined in on the discussion and soon was enjoying the elders' visits as much as her husband did. They also were impressed with the Church members in Chapel Hill.

They were baptized Dec. 31, 1976. A few weeks later, Sister Dorrance's parents and sister were killed in a fire. The first person to show up at their door after the tragedy was Chapel Hill Branch Pres. Richard Rust. That support has continued.

Sister Dorrance, a part-time ballet instructor at Duke University, serves as Relief Society spiritual living teacher in the Chapel Hill Ward, and Dorrance is an elder and a home teacher. They have been sealed in the temple and have two children.

As coach of the U.S. Women's Team, Dorrance travels throughout the world and recently returned from the Peoples Republic of China.

Sister Dorrance said her husband tells people about his beliefs. "The women on his soccer team always look forward to his talk on high standards," she said. "Wherever he goes, he expresses his feelings."

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