College World Series: UNC’s Fox has the right touch in leading UNC
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Spend a few minutes talking with Mike Fox and the North Carolina coach will praise everyone around him, from assistant coaches to office secretaries and groundskeepers.
He isn’t nearly so effusive about his impact on the Tar Heels program.
“I’m a part of a big group here,” Fox said. “Yes, I’m the head coach. And I get sometimes way too much of the credit.”
Maybe. But there’s no denying his decade of work, which has his alma mater headed back to Omaha for a fourth straight appearance in the College World Series. North Carolina plays its first game Sunday against Arizona State.
Fox can’t just blend into the background like he wants. After all, somebody had to create the environment that persuaded families to send their sons to play in Chapel Hill. Somebody had to show the steady hand that managed his players’ fears on the diamond and egos off it. And someone had to get the most out of that talent, particularly in the postseason.
In 11 seasons under Fox, the Tar Heels (47-16) have reached the NCAA tournament 10 times while averaging 45 victories a year. In the 11 seasons prior, the Tar Heels averaged about 38 wins and reached the NCAAs five times with one CWS appearance.
Before this four-year Series streak ó which is the first time an Atlantic Coast Conference school has done that ó the Tar Heels hadn’t been to Omaha since 1989. Their other CWS appearances came in 1960, 1966 and 1978, with Fox playing second base for that ’78 squad.
“He brings in the right type of guys who can play for him on the field and also do things right off the field,” said pitcher Alex White, one of the team’s two first-round picks in Tuesday’s amateur draft. “He knows how to win. … Everybody enjoys playing for him. He’s just one of those guys that everybody wants to be around.”
This year’s group won all five NCAA tournament games by a combined score of 50-12. East Carolina coach Billy Godwin, whose Pirates were swept by the Tar Heels in last weekend’s super regionals, was an assistant to Fox at Division III North Carolina Wesleyan and was glad to see his friend make it back to Omaha.
“Mike is very passionate about what he does,” Godwin said. “He teaches discipline. He recruits the right kind of guys. He’s an extremely hard worker and has an outstanding staff. I think when you put those things together, that breeds success.”
The biggest worry for Fox, 53, might be tempering expectations. The Tar Heels were a few outs away from winning their first national championship before finishing as runner-up to Oregon State in 2006, then was second to the Beavers again the following season. Last year, the Tar Heels lost to Fresno State with a berth in the championship round at stake.