Joe Sagula, who coached UNC’s volleyball team for 33 years and won seven regular-season ACC championships, has announced his retirement.
Sagula joined UNC as head volleyball coach in 1990, coaching the Tar Heels to a 662–384 record and three ACC Tournament titles. The winningest volleyball coach in ACC history, Sagula ranks third among active coaches with 865 career wins and is in the Top 20 for all-time wins by a Division I volleyball coach.
He was inducted into the North Carolina Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2020 and will remain UNC’s head volleyball coach until a successor is named.
“With Joe’s retirement, Carolina Athletics and the sport of volleyball lose an extraordinary coach, lifelong mentor and dedicated teacher,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz told the University’s newsletter, The Well. “His commitment to his players and excellence on and off the court has been an inspiration for our entire campus community. We are grateful for his legacy and the strong foundation he has built for our volleyball program’s future.”
In an interview, Sagula said it was important to know when to retire.
“Throughout my career, it was always important to me to not be in a position where people are saying, ‘It’s time. You need to move on,’ ” Sagula said. “The second thing is … I wanted to make sure that I left the program in a really good position for the future, and I feel we have.”
Sagula’s tenure has included 15 NCAA tournament appearances, five ACC Players of the Year, two ACC Defensive Players of the Year and five ACC Freshmen of the Year. With the returning players and expected recruits for the 2023 season, Sagula said he couldn’t be happier about how he’s leaving the program.
“I didn’t want somebody to come in and have to rebuild everything,” he said. “After 33 years, I really care about this program and all of the kids in this program. It’s been my baby from when I took it over in 1990, and I want to ensure it does well going forward.”
The emergence of the transfer portal and Name, Image and Likeness, commonly referred to as NIL, make retiring now a tad easier, Sagula acknowledged.
“So much around college athletics has changed in the last five to six years,” he said. “I still love the players, the game, the coaching, but everything outside of that has changed so much and it’s made it more of a challenge. I think the younger coaches may be more prepared for those things, the transfer portal, the NIL.”
Before becoming the head volleyball coach at UNC, Sagula, a 1978 graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, spent nine seasons as the head volleyball coach of the University of Pennsylvania, where he compiled a 203–123 record, won four Ivy League regular-season titles, three tournament championships and was named Ivy League Coach of the Year for four consecutive years.
Sagula taught art before coaching and said he may open an art studio near his home, “not necessarily to teach art but to get re-involved in that process.” He also said he’ll spend time playing golf, working out and reading books.
He said he’ll miss the competition but most of all will miss players stopping by his office to discuss classes, sports or life in general.
“My plan is to be in Carmichael Arena and cheer for every volleyball match I can get to and cheer at other events and be a loyal fan,” Sagula said. “I’m a native New Yorker, but Chapel Hill is my home. As they say, I will be a Tar Heel forever.”
— Laurie D. Willis ’86