In her first face-to-face interview since the university hired a law firm to investigate the culture of her program, former North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell said she was “blind-sided” by the allegations against her.
Hatchell, who had coached at UNC for 33 years, agreed to resign from the university in April after the investigation alleged she made a racially insensitive comment and pressured players to play injured.
But Hatchell denied the latter allegation in an interview with The News & Observer on Wednesday at Carmichael Arena.
“All I can say is that I’ve never put a kid on the court, a practice, a drill or a game that had not been approved by the medical staff,” she said.
Hatchell, 67, who is in the Naismith Hall-of-Fame, had coached at North Carolina since 1986. She won 751 games there, including an NCAA title in 1994. She also won eight ACC championships, the most recent in 2008, and took the Tar Heels to three Final Fours. Hatchell missed the 2013-14 season while undergoing treatment for leukemia, and returned the following year.
But on April 1, the university announced it had placed Hatchell and her coaching staff on paid administrative leave after “issues were raised by student-athletes and others,” the school said.
The university then paid Charlotte-based law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein $72,357.42 to conduct an investigation into the culture of its women’s basketball program.
After more than two weeks, the university said in a press release that the law firm interviewed 28 people connected with the program and found that players and medical staff felt pressure from Hatchell to play injured. It also found that Hatchell made comments that were racially insensitive, and when confronted by players and others, did not respond in a timely manner.
When asked whether she used the word, “noose” in a comment to players, Hatchell said her attorney told her not to speak on the specifics of the investigation.
“There is a story and explanation to that, but I can’t talk about it,” she said.
Her attorney, Wade Smith, previously said Hatchell denied using the word “noose” or “lynch” to her players.
The university has declined to make the report public. Hatchell said neither she, nor her attorney have received or asked for the report.
Earlier, Hatchell and her program were a focus of the NCAA’s investigation into academic improprieties at North Carolina that ended without any sanctions against the university.
In the interview with the N&O, Hatchell referred several times to her track record and statements some of her former players made in support of her.
“What I know is what I know, and that’s what matters to me,” Hatchell said. “Gosh, after 44 years of coaching, over 1,000 wins and all the other things, I’m not going to change overnight. You just don’t become something that you haven’t been for 44 years overnight.”
The university felt otherwise. After Hatchell agreed to resign, North Carolina hired former Princeton coach Courtney Banghart to replace her.
In the separation agreement with Hatchell, the university agreed to allow Hatchell to host her annual youth basketball camp for children between 8 and 18 years old, one last time.
When asked why the university felt comfortable allowing Hatchell to host her summer camp on campus given the allegations, UNC spokesperson Steve Kirschner said the university saw no reason to stop her.
“Coach Hatchell successfully ran her summer camp for more than 30 years and asked if she could do so again, since so many families, many of whom have been attending her camp for a number of years, had already made plans to attend this summer,” Kirschner said.
Hatchell said there were a few cancellations after the news came out that she resigned, but insisted that nobody came to her with concerns about her hosting the camp. She said almost 2,000 girls signed up and are participating in the camp, which started on June 28 and ended Thursday morning.
Hatchell walked into the UNC women’s basketball museum at Carmichael Arena Wednesday afternoon wearing a UNC basketball shirt and Jordan shorts. She saw a plaque with her picture and a brief biography which included her accomplishments as a coach at the university.
Hatchell wore a puzzled look on her face. She said she figured it would be taken down by now.
Since she left the university, Hatchell, a cancer survivor, said she’s continued to raise money for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her first grandchild was born on Monday. And Hatchell said she’ll take at least a year off from coaching to focus on her work at the center, her businesses and helping women in coaching.
“I haven’t stopped (coaching) for 44 years,” she said.
In the meantime, Hatchell said she’s waiting on her next opportunity, whether that is coaching or something else.
“Is it hard? Yes, it’s hard,” Hatchell said. “But it was hard when I went through leukemia, it was hard going through the NCAA (investigation), and now this is hard.
“But you grow and you look for the good in all situations. And then you look for those new opportunities. And I’ve got a long list of new opportunities with a new grandson and that’s what I’m going to focus on.”