In 1984, a year after Ralph Sampson graduated from the University of Virginia, the Cavaliers lost to the Finals with former walk-on Kenton Edelin and former player Olden Polynice replacing the national player of the year. three in the middle.
Not surprisingly, the Cavaliers have struggled through the regular season. They were 17-10 entering the ACC tournament and lost – handily – to Wake Forest in the first round. Holland spoke candidly after the game about trying to get his team back together for the NIT.
The NCAA tournament committee, in a rare display of basketball, ranked Virginia as the seventh seed in the East Region and the Cavaliers beat Iona (by one); Arkansas (second, in overtime); Syracuse (eighth) and Indiana – the upset of the No. 1-ranked North Carolina – and two to make the final four.
Terry Holland, who coached U-Va. to two Final Fours, he died at the age of 80
Virginia reached the Final Four in 1981, Sampson’s sophomore year, but came up short the next two seasons. Now, with a freshman and future law school student replacing Sampson, they’re back in the Final Four.
I went to see Holland the other week in Charlottesville and asked him about his incredibly calm demeanor on the bench during the two weeks of the tournament. “Should I really say,” I asked, “that coaches get more comfortable as they get older?”
Holland is only 41 but has been a head coach for 15 years already. He laughed at the question.
“I’ve been trying to keep calm because of Othell,” he says, referring to his brilliant but hot-tempered bodyguard Othell Wilson. “I think he takes a lot of his cues from me. When I’m upset, he gets upset. When I calm down, he goes to bed.” He smiled, “Or at least, calm down.”
So, was he not soft after five years at Davidson and 10 at Virginia, including four under the white-hot presence of Sampson?
He laughed. “I think I should tell everyone that I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders, or I’ve become lighter,” he said. “But you know what, I don’t think the coaches are more relaxed. If anything, they got more paranoid. The key is to recognize that and maybe stop yourself when you start overdoing something. Maybe now I’m a bit stronger than that.”
Holland grew up in the small town of Clinton, NC and was a good enough baseball player to attract the attention of Lefty Driesell, who was building strength at Davidson. He was captain of Driesell’s 1964 team – averaging 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds on a 22-4 team that finished 10th in the final AP poll that season. Holland learned a lot from Driesell and, as long as I’ve known him, he emulated Lefty more than anyone else.
He went to work for Driesell after graduation and succeeded him in 1969 when Driesell left for Maryland. Five years later, he was hired to take over a struggling Virginia program and went on to win the ACC Tournament, as the sixth seed, in his second season.
“He never had a pattern,” Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones, a former Holland player and assistant, said Monday morning. “He looks at who’s on his team and figures out the best way to help them succeed. Flexibility is probably his greatest strength.”
The hiring of Sampson in the spring of 1979 changed Virginia basketball — and Holland’s life. All of a sudden, Virginia was no longer a strong contender; It is a national government. The Cavaliers won the NIT in 1980 — a time many considered a failure — and made the Final Four a year later.
With Sampson gone two years later, there was less pressure to succeed, but still plenty of issues. For most of that time, Virginia was a divided team.
“We didn’t expect to even make the NCAAs,” Jones said. “When we did that, I think everyone decided to put aside their differences and try to win games. During that time, Coach Holland figured out how to deal with all the different people in the locker room. It’s not easy.”
The Cavaliers lost the 1984 Finals in overtime to Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston. The game was a fluke — Virginia had the last shot in regulation — but it went the Cougar way in five minutes of overtime. After the press conference, I saw Holland in the hall. He pointed at me: “Do you think I’ll be soft after the game?” He asked with a smile on his Holland face.
As it was, Holland coached just six more games and retired from coaching in 1990 in part due to accumulated internal problems. Jones, who played for Holland for four years, succeeded him. Holland has won 418 games and is yet to reach 50, but he is no longer a coach. Instead, he became an athletic director – first at Davidson, then at Virginia and finally at East Carolina, less than 100 miles from where he grew up.
Holland is a skilled coach and a skilled administrator. He also did not hide his unhappiness. In the fall of 1984, when Polynice was in second grade, a story broke about him being tried and acquitted for plagiarizing a paper as a freshman. Polynice agreed to turn in another student’s paper, but the Virginia Student Honors Committee agreed that there were strict conditions and cleared it.
When the news broke before Thanksgiving, with the Cavaliers headed to Hawaii, I set out to track down Holland. I finally got assistant coach Dave Odom on the phone shortly after the team arrived at their hotel. “I’ll ask him,” Odom said. “But I don’t think he will talk to you.”
A few minutes later, Holland called. “How was your trip?” I asked, trying to break any ice I could.
“It’s good,” he said. “Until Dave came in and said you were following me halfway around the world.” I started to apologize but he interrupted, “You are doing your job, I understand.” What do you need.”
In 2015, when I was researching my book on Dean Smith, Jim Valvano and Mike Krzyzewski, I had dinner with Holland, who coached all three men. I asked about his yelling at Krzyzewski in the 1983 ACC Championship after Virginia crushed Duke, 109-66. Krzyzewski blamed Holland for beating a helpless team.
“He played Sampson for 40 minutes,” Krzyzewski told me.
“This is not fair,” Holland said that night. “Mike also became good friends later, but his thoughts about that were just wrong.”
The next day, I got an email from Holland that included the scores for that game. Sampson played 14 minutes.
“Guess I got it before,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s safe to say I was angry that night.”
Holland forgave Krzyzewski, as he forgave me for hunting him in Hawaii. He didn’t stop competing, but he understood the most important things. That’s what makes it classy.
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