Twenty years ago, North Carolina baseball coach Mike Fox and East Carolina coach Billy Godwin worked together to win a NCAA Division III national championship at N.C. Wesleyan. This weekend, they will be squaring off with a trip to Omaha at stake.
Godwin, in his fourth season as head coach at ECU, was an assistant coach under Fox at N.C. Wesleyan for the 1989 and 1990 seasons. In 1989, the Battling Bishops won the Division III title and in 1990 advanced to the World Series and finished third.
"I learned a tremendous amount from Mike," Godwin said this week. "I always attribute a lot of what I learned about coaching to Mike."
They developed a strong friendship at Wesleyan. In fact, Fox was in Godwin's wedding in 1990 and signed as the witness on the wedding license.
They have remained friends since, but that it goes on the back burner when they meet on the diamond. Like the Pirates and Tar Heels did in 2007 in the NCAA regional at Chapel Hill.
"It was kind of ironic that the day we played [in 2007] was my wedding aniversary," Godwin said. "I asked Mike before the game if he remembered where he was on that day 17 years ago. Then I said, 'You know what [Godwin's wife] Sharon wants for our anniversary, don't you?'
"He laughed and said, 'I can't give you that one,' " Godwin said.
The Tar Heels won that game and advanced to the College World Series for the second straight season.
This time around, the Pirates and Heels are matched up in a best-of-three super regional that begins on Saturday at UNC's Boshamer Stadium. The winner advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
For the Tar Heels, it would be the fourth straight trip to the CWS. For Godwin, who guided Louisburg College to the NJCAA World Series in 2002 and finished sixth, it would be the first trip to the Division I shindig in Omaha -- and the first for the Pirates' program.
So, Fox and Godwin will put their friendship aside one more time. And try as hard as they can to beat the other guy.
"We’ve known each other a long time, but he’s not my friend this weekend," Fox joked this week. "And I’m not his, I’m sure."
Fox respects Godwin as a coach and what he has accomplished at East Carolina.
"He’s a competitor," Fox said. "[He's] very intense [and] works extremely hard. He’s relentless.
"I think he’s a players’ coach. The players like playing for him. He’s intense, but I think in a good way that challenges his players. And he’s not going to let anything get in his way to reach his goals."
Neither will Fox. That's the way coaches are. At this time of the year, the stakes are high. It's not just about winning, it's about getting a shot at a national championship.
But when it's done this weekend, the two coaches will shake hands and wish each other luck.
"This week, we're foes," Godwin said. "When it's all over, we'll still be friends."