Friedlander: ACC basketball loses an understated coaching legend in Terry Holland
Quiet. Studious. Almost always under control.
Terry Holland looked more like a college professor than a college basketball coach during his 16 seasons on the bench at Virginia.
Or maybe it was more like a television pitch man.
Holland bore such a striking resemblance to Tom Smith, the Food Lion CEO whose commercial appearances were a staple of the ACC’s syndicated broadcasts during the 1980s, that the two were often confused for one another.
So much so that one more than one occasion, he was serenaded by chants of “Food Lion! Food Lion!” from the Cameron Crazies as he walked onto the court for games at Duke.
Had it not been for that claim to fame, Holland might have been even more overshadowed than he was by his more vocal, charismatic coaching rivals during the ACC’s golden era.
While Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, Lefty Driesell, Bobby Cremins and some young guy with a name that was even more impossible to pronounce than spell were getting most of the attention, Holland quietly put together a resume that warranted induction into several halls of fame.
He took over a program that had enjoyed only 3 winning seasons in the previous 21 years. But in just his 2nd season in Charlottesville, 1975-76, he and his team put together the most improbable ACC Tournament championship run in history until Valvano and his Cardiac Pack came along nearly a decade later.
A native of rural Clinton, N.C., who played for Driesell at Davidson, Holland won 418 games and an NIT championship during his career at UVA and his alma mater before beginning a 2nd chapter as a television analyst, then as a successful athletic director.
He has a coaching tree that includes the likes of Miami’s Jim Larrañaga, a leading candidate for this year’s ACC Coach of the Year award, fellow ACC legend Dave Odom, Rick Carlisle, Jeff Jones and Seth Greenberg.
Holland died Monday at the age of 80.
He’s been in declining health since it was announced that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019.
Even when Holland had his greatest teams, 2 of which went to the Final Four in 1981 and ‘84, it was his players – 1976 ACC Tournament MVP Wally Walker and 3-time conference Player of the Year Ralph Sampson, in particular – that garnered most of the attention.
But that never seemed to bother Holland.
The respect he earned from his players, administrators and rivals were far more important than public accolades. For all he accomplished, his greatest legacy was the class with which he went about his business.
It’s a tradition carried on to this day by UVA’s similarly understated current coach Tony Bennett, who like Holland has elevated the Cavaliers to new heights and shares a passion for coaching tenacious defense.
“It’s a sad day,” Bennett, who passed Holland as the school’s winningest coach earlier this season, said in a video statement posted on the program’s official Twitter account. “I have the utmost respect for him as a great basketball coach and his influence there, but the more I got to know coach Holland the more I loved him as a man.
“He put this place on the map and established so much of what is today. I just always wanted to put my arm around him or get a hug from him. You just felt good. He had a peacefulness about him.”
"𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙄 𝙜𝙤𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙘𝙤𝙖𝙘𝙝 𝙃𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙖𝙣𝙙, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙄 𝙡𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙙 𝙝𝙞𝙢 𝙖𝙨 𝙖 𝙢𝙖𝙣." – Coach TB pic.twitter.com/tbbSSt6o1s
— Virginia Men's Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) February 27, 2023
Holland used that genuine, soothing demeanor to his advantage as a fundraiser after stepping away from coaching in 1990, appropriately enough, after taking a team that was 6-8 during the ACC regular season to the conference tournament title game.
As AD at UVA, he presided over a capital campaign that led to sweeping improvements to the school’s athletic facilities, including an $86 million expansion project to Scott Stadium.
He led a similar effort after returning home in 2003 to help East Carolina revive a struggling athletic program. The Pirates’ Olympic Sports Complex, home of venues for soccer, softball and track, is named in his honor.
“You can say it any way you want to say it: Terry Holland is an ECU icon,” Robert Lucas, the former chair of the ECU board of trustees, said upon Holland’s retirement in 2012. “He brought instant credibility to ECU. He rescued ECU athletics.”
Just as he did as a coach at UVA, he did his best work from the background, deflecting a majority of the credit to others.
Always with a smile, a warm handshake and a quiet confidence.
A true gentleman.