Sylvia Hatchell is out as the women's basketball coach at North Carolina after an internal investigation determined the Hall of Fame coach made racially insensitive remarks and exercised undue influence on medical decisions within the program.
The university announced the move just before midnight on Thursday, just 18 days after the review was initiated following concerns from players and parents about the program's culture.
“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,’’ Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “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.”
In the course of 28 interviews, Charlotte law firm Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein determined that Hatchell had indeed used insensitive language, and when confronted by players, she didn't realize the gravity of her words nor did she respond appropriate manner.
According to a Washington Post report that cited six parents of players, Hatchell once told her team they would be “Hanged from trees with nooses” if their play didn't improve.
The investigation also found that Hatchell had attempted to influence both players and medical staff in regard to their availability for play. Despite that, the University found that players and staff resisted her efforts.
"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," Carolina's statement reads.
On a third count, the firm found that, "There has been a breakdown of connectivity between the players and Hatchell."
Over 33 seasons leading the Tar Heels, Hatchell's teams went 751-325, winning the 1994 national title in dramatic fashion on Charlotte Smith's buzzer-beater. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 and finished her career with 1,023 victories, thanks to a successful run at NAIA program Francis Marion from 1975-86.
Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in October 2013, Hatchell missed the 2013-14 season but returned from treatment in time to begin the 2014-15 season, helping lead the Tar Heels to what would be the final Sweet Sixteen appearance of her career. After missing the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons, Carolina returned to the NCAA Tournament this year and finished 18-15.
“It has been the great honor and privilege of my life to coach at the University of North Carolina," Hatchell said in a 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."
Despite her resignation, Hatchell, a native of Gastonia, said she plans to continue help raise money for UNC's Lineberger Cancer Center.
"While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong," she said. "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.
"I will forever love the University of North Carolina. I am Sylvia Hatchell, and I am a Tar Heel.”