UNC Head Coach Announces Resignation & Cancer Diagnosis

North Carolina head swimming & diving coach Rich DeSelm will resign his position at the end of the season, he announced on Monday. DeSelm was an All-American swimmer for UNC and has been a member of their coaching staff for nearly 30 years, including 12 seasons as head coach.

DeSelm says that he is resigning because he has cancer and that his treatment will prevent him from being able to provide the “energetic leadership” that he doesn’t feel that he can provide.

“I am announcing today that this will be my final season as the head swimming coach at the University of North Carolina,” says DeSelm, who is in his 12th season as head coach of the Tar Heels. “This decision is not an easy one. I love UNC, our teams and the athletic department. Working at my alma mater is an honor. While I would like nothing more than to continue to work hard toward bringing our teams back to a championship level, it is time for someone else to lead that effort.

 “Recent medical testing has shown I have a cancer-related mass that will require surgery later this month.  I’ve dealt with previous medical situations and I know from those experiences the significant amount of mental and physical toll this will take. Our teams need energetic leadership at a level that I simply will not be able to provide.”

DeSelm has led UNC’s men’s and women’s teams to 17 top-three ACC finishes and 16 top-30 finishes at the NCAA Championships, and trained 53 All-Americas and 26 ACC champions during his tenure as head coach.

“On behalf of the University of North Carolina, I want to thank Rich, Tracy, and their family, for the significant contributions they have made to our program,” says Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s Director of Athletics. “Rich has positively impacted UNC for 32 years as an accomplished student-athlete, team captain, assistant coach and, for the last dozen years, head coach. Rich has trained and mentored hundreds upon hundreds of student-athletes who have succeeded in the pool, and have excelled in the classroom and our community. Rich’s primary focus at this time must be on his physical well-being and I applaud his selfless decision to think of the impact his personal battle may have on the time needed to direct our swimming and diving program. I know Rich will be Carolina Swimming and Diving’s biggest fan as we move forward.”

“I would like to thank the many swimmers and divers I have enjoyed coaching who have represented UNC and dedicated themselves to excellence,” says DeSelm. “I am proud of our teams’ and our individual swimmers’ and divers’ many accomplishments. I love striving to reach our goals and appreciate all who worked hard to achieve their best. The most rewarding aspect of this job, which I will greatly miss, is working with student-athletes as they strive to excel, in and out of the pool. Although our teams have not competed of late at the level we all want to be, we still have had some terrific success at ACC, NCAA, National and International meets. I am even more proud of the student-athletes’ academic successes, community engagement and loyalty to UNC after graduation.

“I would also like to thank Bubba CunninghamLarry Gallo and Sue Walsh for their leadership and support of Carolina Swimming and Diving and me personally. There are countless others to thank, too, including: my colleagues in the athletic department, the great coaches in all of our sports; my staffs – past and present; my college coaches, Frank Comfort, Jim Wood and Rob Dickson; former administrators at UNC, especially Dick Baddour and Dr. Beth Miller, and; our team parents and alumni.”

DeSelm was named the head coach designate of the program in 2006, and officially took over as head coach on July 1, 2007. The North Carolina women won the ACC title in 2007 in his return to Chapel Hill, but they haven’t won a men’s or women’s title since. The last men’s conference title came in 1998 – the end of a run of 6-straight titles under Frank Comfort. The UNC men finished in the top 15 at NCAAs for 3-straight years in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He also led the women’s team to a 12th-place finish in 2013, one of 8 top-20 finishes under DeSelm.

DeSelm coached on the U.S. National Team in 2014, 2016 and won ACC Women’s Coach of the Year honors in 2012 and 2013. He was head coach for Team USA at the 2011 World University Games in China; assistant coach for Team USA at the 2017 Open Water World Championships; head manager in the 1997 and 1999 Pan Pacific Championships and 1995 Pan Am Games; and assistant manager for U.S. Swimming at the 2000 Olympics and 2004 FINA Short Course Worlds.

At this year’s ACC Championship meet, the UNC women finished 7th and the UNC men finished 10th. Previously, the women’s team had never finished lower than 4th in ACC competition (which happened in both 2017 and 2018). The UNC men’s last 3 ACC finishes of 7th place in 2017, 8th place in 2018, and 10th place in 2019, were also their lowest finishes in ACC Conference Championship Meet history.

The UNC women are expected to have 3 individual swimming qualifiers for the NCAA Championships when those invites are sent out on Wednesday. The men are unlikely to qualify any swimmers for this year’s NCAA Championship meet.

Leave a Reply

24 Comment threads
6 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
30 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

Man…this is sad, many have wanted a coaching change for a few years now and the criticism has picked up due to the ADs inaction…but nobody wants this. He’s a good upstanding guy. Fight this off RD

Bill Spahn

I am so sorry to hear this Rich. You have been a great coach and role model to many swimmers and coaches including my son. I wish you the best in the coming months. You’re a tough guy. I’ll be praying for you


Praying for you Rich! Get well soon!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!