CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Standing on the field under the lights of Francis E. Henry Stadium on Friday night, John Haus appeared content.
The new North Carolina men's lacrosse coach had just completed his coaching debut at his alma mater, a 10-9 defeat of a UNC alumni team in the annual game that marks the culmination of fall ball.
As he stood talking with players and shaking hands with parents, flanked by his wife and three of his four young sons, he looked right at home.
"I always thought when the opportunity came about, it was a unique situation for me to be able to come back to the university where I was an undergraduate student-athlete and to be become the head lacrosse coach at that university," Haus said in his campus office earlier that day. "It's meant a lot to me, and, hopefully, I can put together some good teams in the future here.
Haus served as head coach at Johns Hopkins the previous two years. He was offered the job at UNC in May, just two days after the Blue Jays lost in the NCAA Final Four for the second straight year.
The 1983 UNC graduate, who also served as defensive coordinator at Hopkins from 1988 to 1994, said the move is slowly becoming more comfortable.
Haus and his wife, Lisa, are having a home built just outside Chapel Hill. The former two-time All-America defenseman also has been devoting time to helping sons John, 10; Will, 7; Luke, 5, and Grant, 6 months, get used to their new surroundings, taking them to UNC football games and to his team's practices. Still, having to leave his players at Hopkins made the change tough.
"What makes it the most difficult in terms of transition is you leave a group that you've been with a couple years and you've worked hard with," Haus said. "And it would not be honest of me to say that I don't miss the kids that I coached because I do. They were a great group. They worked hard and did everything I asked, and obviously I wish them nothing but the best."
But although the Loyola High School graduate still has strong ties to Baltimore - a Ravens hat still hangs on his office wall - Haus' heart is in North Carolina now. Haus, who was a member of UNC's first two NCAA title teams in 1981 and 1982, said he has been back to Baltimore only three times since moving down here in early August. The third time was the weekend of Oct. 7 when the Tar Heels traveled to McDonogh to play exhibitions against Washington College, Towson, Cornell and Loyola in the Coaches vs. Leukemia Tournament.
It was then that Haus could feel that his devotions had fully shifted. "I feel a bond now and much more of a connection with our players here and a commitment we have here," Haus said.
Last year's Tar Heels finished 7-5 under Dave Klarmann, who announced prior to the season that he would resign after serving as coach for 10 years.
North Carolina was denied a berth in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years and hasn't won a postseason game since 1993. The Tar Heels have compiled a 26-29 record over the past four years, including 1-11 in ACC play.
Once a national power, UNC hasn't captured the ACC title since 1996 and last claimed the NCAA title in 1991.
"The program has not been as successful the last couple years, and I think whenever you do some new things and you bring somebody new in, there's a feeling that things are going to get better," said Willie Scroggs, the university's senior associate athletic director and Haus' former coach, who led the Tar Heels to three national titles in the 1980s.
"John's a solid guy. He's an intense guy. He played here. He's one of our greatest players ever. So I think everyone feels really good about it, and that kind of builds on itself."
Chase Martin, a former Gilman standout who starred on attack for the Tar Heels the past four years, has been serving as the team's undergraduate assistant coach this fall while finishing up his communications degree. He said Haus' arrival has brought a heightened enthusiasm to the team.
"He's a disciplinarian, and they respect every word that comes out of his mouth," Martin said. "And I think they're eager to learn from him. They know he's got a good track record."
Heightened expectations have accompanied Haus' arrival, as well. Not that he isn't used to pressure.
When he signed on to replace the fired Tony Seaman as head man at Hopkins in the summer of 1998, Haus did so knowing that the Blue Jays hadn't appeared in the NCAA final since 1989 and hadn't won the title since 1987, and that Seaman had been pushed out for his failure to rectify that situation.
But Haus said he will put as much pressure on himself at UNC as he did at Hopkins.
For now, though, he's just enjoying his new home.
"I guess I could say that I'm very fortunate that, as things materialized, this is where I ended up," Haus said. "And I hope that I'm here to stay."