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Holland’s legacy: Winning with class
Terry Holland
Photograph above by Dan Grogan, below courtesy of the Athletics Office
“Before Terry Holland, there was no Virginia basketball,” said college basketball analyst Billy Packer. Holland (above and below) coached here for 16 seasons, starting in 1974, winning a school-record 326 games. Below: Athletic Director Holland congratulates 2000 Olympic swimming medalist Ed Moses, then a U.Va. student.

By Dan Heuchert

Ed Moses (left), Terry HollandWhen U.Va. sports fans settle into their seats at the expanded Scott Stadium, or in the new John Paul Jones Arena, they might take a moment to appreciate Terry Holland — and old nemesis Lefty Driesell.

Holland, the winningest men’s basketball coach in U.Va. history and later director of athletics, announced in July that he would step down from his current post as special adviser to University President John T. Casteen III at the end of August, wrapping up three decades at U.Va.
It was a career that may not have happened were it not for Driesell.

Best known as the University of Maryland’s folksy basketball coach, Driesell was the head coach at Davidson College when he made Holland, a Clinton, N.C., native, his first recruit. Holland helped Davidson to a top-10 national ranking, but when graduation came, he was unsure about his future.

Driesell offered Holland a job as an assistant coach, thinking it might help his future business career. “I didn’t really think of him as a coach,” Driesell said. “I was trying to get him prepared to go to graduate school and be a CPA.”

Holland took the job, Davidson continued to win, and he stayed another year, and another. “The more I did it, the more I thought, ‘I like doing this now, and I’ll just do it as long as it’s fun,’” Holland said.

After five years, Maryland hired Driesell and Holland took over at Davidson, where his teams continued winning. When Virginia coach Bill “Hoot” Gibson retired after the 1973-74 season, Driesell recommended Holland to then-U.Va. athletic director Gene Corrigan.

Corrigan had three finalists. Holland got the first interview and was hired on the spot. “That was one of the best hires I ever made in my life — anywhere, anytime,” Corrigan said.

At the time, Virginia had been a member of the ACC for 21 seasons, but had posted just one winning season. Many in the University community believed that big-time athletics and big-time academics could not coexist.

Holland wasn’t buying it. “When I came from Davidson to Virginia, as restrictive as the academic requirements were, they weren’t as strict as Davidson’s,” he said.

At the end of his second season, in March 1976, Holland mollified the naysayers with “The Miracle of Landover.” Arguably a watershed moment in modern U.Va. athletics, the unheralded Cavaliers went into the ACC Tournament that month and upset three nationally ranked teams on consecutive days to claim the school’s first — and still only — conference championship.

It not only showed U.Va. was a team to be reckoned with, it also opened doors in recruiting. Soon thereafter, Holland spirited Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker out of Kentucky to become the cornerstones of the rebuilding program. The biggest “get” — literally — came in May 1979, when 7-foot-4 Harrisonburg native Ralph Sampson announced he would attend U.Va. The Cavaliers instantly became a national power.

Holland “made the difference in my coming there,” said Sampson, now living in Atlanta, where he runs a sports and education foundation for youth. “And he made the difference in my staying all four years,” spurning multi-million-dollar professional offers.

With Sampson as the three-time national player of the year, the Cavaliers were consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally.

The basketball team’s success brought much public attention to the University. Applications soared. The rising tide buoyed other ships in the athletic department, too, noted former football coach George Welsh.

“We couldn’t recruit just on what happened in the football program,” said Welsh, who came to Virginia in 1982. “The notoriety during the Sampson years definitely helped us.”

Holland coached for 16 seasons, winning a school-record 326 games before stepping down to become the athletic director at Davidson in 1990. Nine of his former assistant coaches and players went on to become head coaches in the college or professional ranks.

“I don’t think that’s an accident,” said University of South Carolina head coach Dave Odom, a former Holland assistant who still talks with him weekly. “Not that we as a group of coaches were that talented, but we were put into a position to learn to be head coaches by Terry. … There was never a question about his desire to see us grow.”

Holland also served as a mentor for Craig Littlepage, who was an assistant coach, then an assistant athletic director under Holland when Holland returned to Virginia as athletic director in 1995.

“One of the things I keep with me is the level of professionalism with which he went about his job every day,” said Littlepage, who succeeded Holland as athletic director in 2001. “The nickname ‘Virginia Gentleman’ is apt and very appropriate.”

Many of Holland’s colleagues say it wasn’t just winning that made Holland special, but how he won. He earned a reputation for integrity, both inside and outside the University. He suspended star players who got into trouble; spoke his mind, politely, on controversial issues; and insisted that his players go to class.

“I think his legacy is of real integrity,” said D. Alan Williams, U.Va.’s faculty athletic representative from 1967 to 1999. “With Terry, you have to start with … his sense of what’s right and what’s not, and how it fits in a university.”

“He was a great basketball coach, but an even better person,” said longtime Cavalier women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan. “He’s so respected — respected as honest, true, very reliable and dependable. He’s like the dean of college coaches.”

Holland’s tenure as U.Va.’s athletic director was also successful. He oversaw the $86 million expansion of Scott Stadium, and the construction of the Aquatic & Fitness Center, the Sheridan Snyder Tennis Center, and the University Hall Turf Field.

He hired several current coaches, including football coach Al Groh and men’s basketball coach Pete Gillen.

In 1998-99, Virginia placed eighth — its best finish ever — in the Directors Cup, which measures program-wide performance in national championship competition.

Holland’s crowning achievement, however, is rising across the street from University Hall: a new basketball arena. Plans to replace U-Hall have been on the boards since the Sampson years. Holland firmed them up, then stepped aside as athletic director to help raise funds to make them a reality.

The John Paul Jones Arena will open in 2006. “It’s so close to being done,” Holland said. “I certainly want to be around when it opens and go see games in it.”

Holland says that when he left the athletic directorship — voluntarily trading a third of his salary for a one-third reduction in workload — he thought he would ease toward retirement. But, at age 62, he found he’s not ready.

One involvement that will continue is Holland’s advocacy for college athletic reform. He speaks passionately about changing game schedules to protect class time, rewarding schools that recruit student-athletes who fit their overall academic profile, and about making freshmen ineligible in order to get established academically. “But nobody’s listening to me,” he said.

Otherwise, Holland’s plans for the future remain up in the air. He may do some commentary on college basketball broadcasts; he would consider taking another coaching job or athletic directorship, either on an interim or full-time basis.

“I’m going to take this year to listen — is there a five- to seven-year project that I need to at least consider,” he said.

And how would Holland like to be remembered?

“I did my job,” he said. “You know, it’s like Frank McCue said the year we won the ACC Tournament. He said, ‘Everybody’s making such a big deal out of it. Hell, that’s what we hired him for.’”


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