Terry Holland, who elevated Virginia basketball to national prominence during 16 seasons as coach and later had a distinguished career as an athletic administrator, has died, the school announced Monday. He was 80.
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 flailing program in 1974. The Cavaliers had had just three winning seasons in 21 years and Holland created a culture that proved a formula for success: His Cavaliers played rugged 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 Tournaments, two Final Fours and the 1980 NIT title. He also guided the Cavaliers to their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title in 1976 despite a modest 15-11 regular-season record.
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Including a five-year stint at Davidson, Holland’s record is 418-216.
His biggest victory, however, likely was luring the nation’s most coveted recruit, 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson of Harrisonburg, to join the Cavaliers for the 1979-80 season, and it was then that the turnaround took off.
“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 mainly the deciding factor. Good school, good teammates, good education, ACC. I mean, you had Dean Smith and all those people around, but he understood my demeanor and fit what I wanted in a coach. He was the perfect fit for me.”
The Cavaliers won the NIT in Sampson’s freshman season and went to the NCAA Tournament for his last three years, reaching the Final Four in 1981 before losing to North Carolina in the national semifinals.
Sampson, a future Hall of Famer, earned national player of the year honors in each of his last three seasons, and the profile his presence provided surely aided Holland in building his program. Virginia went back to the Final Four in its first season without Sampson, losing in overtime to Houston in the national semifinals, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament in four of Holland’s final six seasons as coach.
Holland also built an extensive coaching tree, with many assistants moving on to become successful head coaches themselves. Among them: Rick Carlisle of the Indiana Pacers, Jim Larrañaga at Miami, Jeff Jones at Old Dominion and former longtime college coaches Dave Odom and Seth Greenberg.
With two daughters of his own, Holland also had an appreciation for the women’s game, former Cavaliers coach Debbie Ryan said.
“He knew that we had to go to Clemson and Georgia Tech, so he helped us to get the league to schedule both of us on the same days to play doubleheaders,” she said. “We would fly down to Clemson, bus to Georgia Tech and then fly back, the men’s and the women’s team together, so that it would save us all that wear and tear.”
He also was always concerned about doing the right thing, she said.
“He wasn’t impressed with himself at all,” she said, describing him as a Southern gentleman. “He was just there to make sure these boys became men and they 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 back to Virginia five years later in the same position. In 2001, he moved to special assistant to the president of the university, and in 2004, he began an eight-year stint as athletic director at East Carolina before retiring in 2012.