Sylvia Hatchell has resigned as women’s basketball coach after an investigation found that she made comments that were racially insensitive and was perceived by some of her players to have “undue influence” regarding medical issues and pressure to play.
An athletics department statement said the investigation found that “there has been a breakdown of connectivity between the players and Hatchell.”
Hatchell, a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, had been at UNC for 33 years and was the only coach whose teams won national championships under three different sanctioning bodies of women’s college basketball.
“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,” Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement Thursday night. “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.”
Hatchell said in a statement: “It has been the great honor and privilege of my life to coach at the University of North Carolina. The University will always hold a special place in my heart.”
The University had retained the Charlotte-based law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein in late March to investigate the program, and Hatchell’s entire staff was placed on administrative leave. The firm interviewed 28 current players and personnel connected to the program, UNC said, “and found widespread support for three overarching themes”:
Hatchell’s statement continued:
“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.
“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.”
Hatchell was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2013. She went through chemotherapy treatments that lasted into March 2014. Two months later, her doctor announced that she had completed treatments and would be back on the bench for the 2014-15 season.
In 2016, she published a book about the experience, Fight! Fight!: Discover Your Inner Strength When Blindsided by Life.
Hatchell said Thursday that she would continue to raise money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, to “establish a ministry of exercise and recovery for cancer patients” and would push for equal facilities and treatment for women’s athletics.
In 2017, she became only the third women’s basketball coach in history to reach 1,000 career victories. Her career record of 1,023-405 places her third among active women’s coaches by total victories.
Hatchell’s team lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March, completing an 18-15 season that included wins over two top 10-ranked teams. It was the Tar Heels’ first time in the tournament since 2015.
Her program was scrutinized in the seven-year academics-athletics case that ended in 2017 and was cleared by the NCAA along with other academic and athletic units.
Hatchell received a contract extension through 2020 the year before the NCAA’s decision.
The three assistant coaches remain on administrative leave, according to athletics department spokesman Steve Kirschner. Associate Head Coach Andrew Calder has been at Carolina for all of Hatchell’s 33 years. Assistant Coach Sylvia Crawley ’94 has spent six seasons in the program, and Assistant Coach Bett Shelby has just finished her first. The program’s website lists six other staff members.