Enthusiasm, diligence, leadership, technical expertise, perfectionism, uncompromising work ethic … these and many other glowing qualities are the words that people use to describe Elmar Bolowich as a coach and as a person. His impact on North Carolina soccer was felt in a myriad of ways.
Elmar became head men’s soccer coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989. In his 22 years at the helm, he compiled a record of 280-144-40, guiding the Tar Heels to 15 NCAA Tournament berths, the 2000 Atlantic Coast Conference title and the 2001 National Championship. During his tenure, he won more games than any other men’s head coach at the university. The team advanced to the NCAA Division I tournament in eleven of his last 12 seasons with the Tar Heels, with trips to the Final Four in his final three years, 2008-2010, and a runner-up finish in 2008. Six of his teams advanced to at least the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament and three teams captured at least a share of the ACC regular-season title.
Elmar was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year twice (2000 and 2010), the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) South Region Coach of the Year twice (2000 and 2001) and NSCAA National Coach of the Year in 2001. In January 1999, he was honored with the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association National Merit award, given annually to a college coach whose reputation is recognized by soccer officials as praiseworthy and reflective of the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior. Elmar left UNC in 2011 and moved to Creighton University, where he enjoyed a successful inaugural season. His team advanced to the College Cup, giving Elmar as head coach four consecutive trips to the prestigious event. In recognition of his success, he was named as Midwest Region Coach of the Year by NSCAA and as NCAA Coach of the Year by MLSsoccer.com.
Elmar has an impressive record of producing strong professional and international players. Twenty-one of his former players were playing professionally in 2010. Elmar coached 22 All-America selections, 28 First Team All-ACC honorees and nine MLS Super Draft First Round picks. Seven former Tar Heels who played under Elmar advanced to represent their country as part of the U.S. Men’s National Team, with former MLS all-star defender Eddie Pope and Gregg Berhalter headlining the list as members of the 2006 United States World Cup squad. One of Elmar’s former players at UNC expressed the view that every player that Elmar coached became a better player regardless of where the player started.
Elmar’s contributions as a soccer coach in North Carolina extended into the local community and statewide at the youth level. He coached the 1972 Durham-Chapel Hill Strikers U-19 club team to the 1990 McGuire Cup Final Four and later coached the 1991 Triangle United Soccer Association’s boys Gold team at the U-15 through U-18 age levels, leading the team to three state and regional championships, two national finals and one national final four.
Elmar served as NCYSA Vice President of Player and Coaching Development between 1999 and 2006 and coached for many years in the association’s Boys ODP program. NCYSA recognized his contributions by awarding him the Brantley-Murphy Award in 2006 and 2008, the Service Award in 2007 and the Boys Classic Coach of the Year Award in 2009. In 2010 he was named as US Youth Soccer Region III Coach of the Year.
Susie Hill, parent manager of the ’72 Strikers recalled that Elmar’s commitment to developing soccer players knew no bounds, saying about him that his enthusiasm, diligence, leadership and technical expertise lent credibility that was easy to follow. “In fertile North Carolina,” she said, “he saw good athletes who would become great soccer players with the proper training. Did it matter that it was in driving rain storms, snow on the ground, or hot as hell? Not at all! He forged young guys into men. He created teams that could fight through adversity and persevere through tough practices. He touched many lives in a very positive way.” Susie’s son, Dax, a player on the Strikers team, recalls hard practices of 1v1 in which one’s every flaw was exposed to Elmar’s eyes. Both Dax and another player on the team, Derek Kepner, remember that Elmar made practices demanding and diverse, to the extent that they faced few surprises in the games that followed.
Billy Joe Morgan, long-time soccer developer in the Jacksonville area and a member of the first class of the NC Soccer Hall of Fame, appreciated a special display of Elmar’s support of youth soccer in the eastern part of the state. The UNC team annually visited during the team’s spring training to play a pair of games in Jacksonville and the opportunity for young soccer players in the area to watch was always an inspiration to them.
Elmar was born in Germany. He played collegiately at the University of Mainz from 1976-80, graduating in 1981 with a diploma in Sports Education, and then played and coached at the semi-professional level in his native country. Elmar received his coaching license from the German Football Federation in 1981 and holds a USSF A license.
Elmar and his wife Nina have a daughter, Alya, and a son, Alex.