UNC Coach Scott Forbes Breaking Through
With First Top-10 Team At North Carolina

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network
(Last updated June 5, 2024)

In the summer of 2020, North Carolina baseball coach Scott Forbes accepted a doubly difficult task.

The long-time Carolina pitching guru was promoted to succeed the retiring Mike Fox, who was by far the most successful coach in the program’s proud history. Complicating matters further, Forbes somehow had to pull off that challenging transition amid a worldwide pandemic.

Forbes’ first three seasons leading the Tar Heels were solid but unspectacular. Each ended with an invitation to the 64-team NCAA Baseball Championship, but each also included a middle-of-the-pack finish in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

In one sense, the Tar Heels were the definition of average, with three consecutive .500 records in league competition: 18-18 in 2021, 15-15 in 2022, and 14-14 in 2023. On the other hand, there were three very impressive highlights in 2022, when Carolina won the ACC Tournament, advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals, and finished #13 in the national rankings.

It’s easy to forget, but even some legendary UNC coaches of the past took a while to do truly special things.

Basketball coach Dean Smith didn’t post a first-place ACC finish or an ACC Tournament title until his sixth season as the Tar Heels’ head coach. Football coach Mack Brown didn’t make a bowl game or finish in the national Top 25 until his fifth year in Chapel Hill. Even Fox, who led the Diamond Heels to seven College World Series appearances during his sensational 22-year tenure, didn’t have a first-place ACC divisional finish until his eighth UNC campaign.

Forbes, 49, appears to be having his head coaching breakthrough right now.

“A team that sacrifices the ‘me’ for the ‘we’ is a true team,” Forbes said. “That’s what we have here right now. … One thing this team always does well is they play their tails off.”

After leading UNC (45-14) to the ACC regular-season title with a 22-8 conference record, Forbes was named the ACC Coach of the Year. The Tar Heels won seven of their 10 series against conference opponents and weren’t swept once.

Carolina’s consistent excellence over the past four months led to the #4 overall seed in the 64-team NCAA Baseball Championship. The 2024 national champion will be crowned at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., on June 23 or 24.

Although high seeds certainly don’t guarantee postseason success, they are especially valuable in college baseball because they come with the enormous benefit of home-field advantage.

Every top-16 seed — including #4 UNC, #10 NC State and #16 East Carolina this year, in another banner campaign for in-state programs — got to host a four-team Regional last weekend on its home field, and the Tar Heels and Wolfpack were able to advance.

Every top-eight seed also was guaranteed to host a Super Regional if it could advance past the opening weekend. Thus, while NC State must face #7 Georgia in Athens, Carolina gets to host West Virginia.

This means that the 2024 Tar Heels’ postseason pursuit of a College World Series trip will come with every one of their games being played in the friendly confines of Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, where the Heels posted a stunning 32-2 record during the regular season.

(For the opening-weekend results of all eight ACC teams and all seven North Carolina-based teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament, please click HERE.)

This year’s Tar Heels are an impressive blend of hitting, pitching and defense, as reflected in this year’s All-ACC voting.

Carolina’s eight All-ACC selections, which led the conference, consisted of four pitchers and four hitters/fielders: right fielder Casey Cook (first team), center fielder Vance Honeycutt (first team), starting pitcher Jason DeCaro (second team), first baseman Parks Harber (second team), starting pitcher Shea Sprague (second team), relief pitcher Matthew Matthijs (third team), relief pitcher Dalton Pence (third team) and catcher Luke Stevenson (third team).

Offensively, the Tar Heels just broke the single-season program record (108 in 2002) for home runs. Their 109 dingers include double-digit contributions from Honeycutt (24), Harber (20), Cook (18), designated hitter Alberto Osuna (14) and Stevenson (13).

“I think (Honeycutt) is the best player in the country,” Forbes said. “You don’t see many guys with that type of size, speed and ability. He’s a game-changer (on the field), but he’s also a game-changer for us in the locker room, because he leads by example. He’s a Dean’s List guy, a phenomenal student, and he has a great work ethic on and off the field.”

Forbes, who played for Fox at North Carolina Wesleyan and then served as his UNC pitching coach for two stretches (1999-2002 and 2006-20), has done perhaps his best work this season with the Carolina pitching staff, which leads the ACC in earned run average (4.27) by a wide margin.

All three of UNC’s weekend starters — DeCaro, Sprague and Aidan Haugh — are program newcomers.

DeCaro is the rare true freshman who seems confident and comfortable as the team’s #1 starting pitcher. Sprague, a junior left-hander, transferred to Carolina last summer from Elon, where he was a two-time first-team all-conference performer. Haugh, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound junior elevated into the starting rotation in mid-April, played the past two seasons at Fayetteville Tech Community College.

In the bullpen, the Tar Heels are led by Pence (a dominating lefty), Matthijs (whom Forbes calls one of the most improved players on this year’s team) and a pair of senior right-handers, Connor Bovair and Matt Poston.

Last May, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham gave Forbes a five-year contract extension, through June 2028.

Forbes’ new deal includes a base salary of about $340,000 per year, an additional $180,000 per year through Carolina’s long-term contract with Nike, and various performance incentives (e.g., Coastal Division title, ACC regular-season title, ACC Tournament title, NCAA Tournament bid, Regional host, Super Regional appearance, College World Series trip, national championship) potentially worth another $300,000 or more per year.

Unlike in his first three seasons as UNC’s head coach, Forbes and the Tar Heels are very well-positioned this year to achieve a stunning number of those very lofty goals.

UNC Head Coach Scott Forbes
Year—Overall, ACC (Place), Postseason

2021—28-27, 18-18 (6th), NCAA Regional
2022—42-22, 15-15* (7th), NCAA Super Regional
2023—36-24, 14-14 (7th), NCAA Regional
2024—45-14, 22-8 (1st), TBD (#4 national seed)

*—ACC Tournament champion

College World Series Trips
(NC Division One Programs Only)
School, Conference — Trips (Most Recent)

North Carolina, ACC — 11 (2018)
NC State, ACC — 3 (2021)
Duke, ACC — 3 (1961)
Wake Forest, ACC — 3 (2023)