Evolution of the North Carolina Tar Heels


The University of North Carolina, located in Chapel Hill, is home to the Tar Heels and a basketball program that dates back over 100 years. Since its inception in 1910, the team has appeared in 20 Final Fours and won six national titles – including the most recent championship – and is the No. 3 overall winningest school in the NCAA. They’ve also contributed scads of NBA players, including Michael Jordan. Here’s how this perennial contender got its start and how its logo has changed over time.


Tar Heel History

North Carolina first took the basketball court on January 27, 1910, against Virginia Christian in a win, 42-21, under head coach Nat Cartmell, who coached the team for four years. Cartmell was the school’s track coach before basketball took hold of the school, and when the team was formed, they asked him to take on basketball as well.


Since those early days, there have been many head coaches. The longest tenured one, however, was the great Dean Smith, who took the reins in 1961 and stayed until he departed after the 1997 season. His teams were responsible for 11 of the school’s 20 Final Four appearances and two of the team’s six national titles, and as a coach, racked up 879 wins at UNC. While he was still coach, the university named its new home arena the Dean E. Smith Center. He also coached a player who went on to have one of the most successful NBA careers of all times: Michael Jordan, who also helped the Tar Heels win the 1982 National Championship before winning six rings with the Chicago Bulls in the NBA.

Other notable coaches include Frank McGuire, who led the team to its first national title, and current head coach Roy Williams, who took over coaching duties in 2003 and has since won three national championships, including last year’s title clinch.

Logo Evolution

The University of North Carolina’s athletic teams are known as the Tar Heels (and not Tarheels – everyone will tell you that’s wrong). This term dates back to the state’s early history when employees worked to produce tar, and pitch for the naval industry often worked barefoot and likely walked around with actual tar on their heels. Over time, this phrase took on a positive aura and became a notion of state pride.

However, a tarred heel is not the school’s mascot; instead, it’s a ram. While this may seem to be a bit of a stretch, it’s really not. An early football player from 1922 was known as “the battering ram” due to his bruising style of play. Thus, the Tar Heels’ mascot is a ram, which has been reflected in their logo on occasion. Here’s how the UNC logo has changed over time.


In the early days, the logo is simple – an interlocked “NC” in Carolina blue, one of the school’s official colors.


The logo is altered significantly. Now, it appears as a ram’s head, complete with curled, golden horns. Atop its head is a blue cap with the letters “UNC” across the front. This ram’s head means business, and you can tell by the fierce determination across its face.


We see the ram’s head is still a thing, but it’s a little different. He still has a determined mug, but his horns are no longer golden. His cap still sits atop his head, but only sports a “C.” Below the ram’s head is “UNC.”


This rendition includes a full-bodied ram. This guy remains fierce and determined, and sports-clenched fists and a sweater that features an intertwined “NC.” While he has human-like hands, his feet are hooved, and it looks like he’s marching toward victory. His hat again says “UNC.”


This version of the logo reverts to the early, interlocked “NC.” This time, Carolina is spelled across the top, and “Tar Heels” appears along the bottom. In the middle is a ram’s head, but this one is more realistic than the earlier rams. His horns are curled and gray.


Here, we have a version that is very similar to the first. No rams appear, no words, and the only letters are the interlocked “N” and “C.” The bulk of the letters are the lighter Carolina blue, and it’s outlined in a darker blue.


The current logo is very similar to the prior one with the same concept and color scheme, but the letters aren’t quite as thick and bulky.


Go Heels

Are you hoping your Heels go back to back? Of course, you are. If you’re heading to catch a game, either at the Dean E. Smith Center or at an away campus, make sure you’re properly attired with some new, authentic NCAA threads from Fanatics.




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