Terry Holland, who transformed Virginia basketball, dies

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Terry Holland, who elevated Virginia men’s basketball to national prominence for 16 seasons as head coach and then had a distinguished career as an athletic administrator, has died, the school announced Monday. He was 80 years old.

Holland died Sunday night, according to the school, which confirmed the death with his family. His health had declined since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019, and he stopped taking his prominent courtside seat at Virginia home games.

Holland took over a struggling program in 1974. The Cavaliers had only had three winning seasons in 21 years, and Holland created a culture that proved a formula for success: His Cavaliers played tough defense.

Two of his first three teams finished with losing records, but only one more did as Holland compiled a 326-173 record, led Virginia to nine NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours and the title of the 1980 National Invitation Tournament (NIT). He also guided the Cavaliers to their first ACC tournament title in 1976 despite a modest 15-11 regular season record.

Including a five-year stint at Davidson, Holland’s record is 418-216.

His greatest victory, however, was probably luring the nation’s most coveted recruit, 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson of Harrisonburg, to join the Cavaliers for the 1979-80 season, and that’s when the change began.

“Terry Holland,” Sampson told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month when asked what made him choose upstart Virginia over more established suitors. “He was mostly the deciding factor. Good school, good teammates, good education, ACC. I mean, you had Dean Smith and all these people around, but he understood my demeanor and fit what I wanted in a coach. He was the perfect. suitable for me.”

The Cavaliers won the NIT in Sampson’s freshman season and went to the NCAA Tournament in his final three years, reaching the Final Four in 1981 before losing to North Carolina in the national semifinals.

Sampson, a future Hall of Famer, won national player of the year honors in each of his last three seasons, and the profile his presence provided certainly helped Holland build its program. Virginia returned to the Final Four in his first season without Sampson, losing in overtime to Houston in the national semifinals, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament in four of Holland’s last six seasons as coach.

Holland also built an extensive coaching tree, with many assistants going on to become successful head coaches themselves. Among them: Rick Carlisle of the Indiana Pacers, Jeff Jones at Old Dominion and former college coaches Dave Odom and Seth Greenberg.

With two daughters of her own, Holland also loved the women’s game, former Cavaliers coach Debbie Ryan said.

“He knew we had to go to Clemson and Georgia Tech, so he helped us get the league to schedule us both on the same days to play doubleheaders,” he said. “We would fly to Clemson, bus to Georgia Tech and then fly back, the men’s team and the women’s team together, so it would save us all that wear and tear.”

He was also always concerned about the right timing, he said.

“I wasn’t impressed with himself at all,” she said, describing him as a Southern gentleman. “He was just there to make sure these boys grew up and became good men.”

When he stepped down as coach at age 48, it was to return to his alma mater, Davidson, as athletic director, beginning an administrative tenure that would bring him to Virginia five years later in the same position. In 2001, he became special assistant to the university president, and in 2004, he began an eight-year stint as East Carolina’s athletic director before retiring in 2012.

Report from The Associated Press.

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