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REASON TO SMILE : Virginia's Holland Adds Humor, Smarts to a Winning Career

March 06, 1987|JOHN FEINSTEIN | The Washington Post

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Some things about Terry Holland are obvious, to use one of his favorite words. He is a good basketball coach. You don't put together a record of 362-173 in 18 years without being good, especially when the last 13 are in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He has a temper that's hard to miss when watching a Virginia game, especially since he's a gangly 6-foot-7.

But people miss a lot when they look at Holland. It's easy to do, largely because he is not very forthcoming in public. One of the reasons he uses the word "obviously" so often is that he generally says only that which is obvious.

Terry Holland is very smart and very funny. He is an inveterate practical joker with a sense of humor so sly it often goes right past people.

Several weeks ago, Holland sat with a group before a game discussing Virginia sports promotions director Todd Turner, a good friend. Someone jokingly asked exactly what Turner did with all his time.

"I'll be damned if I know," Holland said. "Personally, I think he sits in his office all day updating his resume'."

Shortly after that, Holland left the group. A few minutes later, Turner came racing over. "Okay, who's the wise guy here who says I spend all my time updating my resume'?" he demanded.

The wise guy already had left.

That sense of humor, combined with an ability to look at life and his profession without taking either one, or himself, very seriously, have kept Holland in a business that seems hardly ideal for someone like him.

"I first got into coaching thinking I would do it for one year," he said recently. "Every year I say I'll keep doing it for as long as it's still fun. Every once in a while Ann (his wife) will look at me and say, 'So, you still having fun?' Sometimes I'm not sure how to answer.

"I always tell myself that if it's not fun, there's no sense doing it. I'm not in it for the prestige or the ego or the money or the classic reasons. I am, but I don't want to admit it. I think I would lose my sanity if I did. As long as I can rationalize it that way and still have fun, or at least think I'm having fun, I can keep doing it."

Holland has had fun this season. His team comes into Friday's ACC tournament opener against Georgia Tech with a 20-8 record and an NCAA tournament bid locked up, Virginia's sixth bid in seven seasons and, perhaps more significantly, its third in the four seasons since Ralph Sampson graduated. This was a team picked to do big things before Olden Polynice left school after a shoplifting incident. It is a team that has done superbly without him.

For that, Holland deserves credit. For that, some people say, "typical Terry."

That's part of the image: "He's a great coach when he doesn't have great talent." It has been said of him often and it's a label that won't go away because of what happened during Sampson's four seasons at Virginia. Virginia won lots of games, but never THE games. Sampson never reached the level people expected of a player with his gifts, a trend that has continued in the NBA. Maybe the fault lay more with the player than the coach. But the coach never will say that.

Holland is intensely loyal to Sampson. When Sampson left without any of the championships that had been predicted, people questioned Holland. Publicly, he never seemed to mind. Privately, friends say and he now admits, he burned. "Of course it hurt," he said. "How could it not hurt?"

One season after Sampson left, with a one-time walk-on starting in his place, Virginia reached the Final Four after barely getting into the tournament. In fact, it came within one superb defensive play by Akeem Olajuwon of beating Houston and going on to play Georgetown for the national championship. Suddenly, Holland was vindicated. Did he need vindication?

"Well, if there was any doubt before, that took care of it," he said. "There was a lot of luck involved, but that's part of the game. ... Suddenly, we looked up and said, 'Hey, we're in the Final Four.' If I had questioned myself before then, I didn't afterwards. I know I'm a good coach."

Holland's trip to a career in coaching was an unusual one. He grew up in Clinton, N.C., a town of 7,000. His father ran a small restaurant, his mother was a teacher. He was an excellent student and a good basketball player in high school. Basketball was always just a sport to him, not an obsession or a ticket anywhere. He could have gone to college on an academic scholarship if he never had picked up a basketball.

He landed at Davidson, playing for one Charles G. Driesell, after a number of twists. Davidson basketball was almost non-existent in 1959 when Holland was a high school senior. Holland was thinking about going to Wake Forest or perhaps Duke. His first choice probably would have been North Carolina State if he had been recruited there because he grew up a State fan.

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