Holland showed us—and the world—what UVA could be
Cerebral and reserved, Terry Holland didn’t seem the audacious type, but his belief that Virginia could be a consistent national contender in men’s basketball was, in retrospect, radical.
UVA had little basketball tradition to speak of. Not until Holland, who died Feb. 26 at age 80, led UVA to the Final Four in 1981 and 1984 and to the Elite Eight in 1983 and 1989—nine NCAA tournament appearances total—in 16 years as coach. That run of success is the reason Holland is best remembered for putting UVA basketball on the national map. But he also furthered the entire Cavalier cause as athletics director, overseeing a period of major growth from 1994 to 2001. In his final act at UVA, he served as special assistant to President John T. Casteen (Col ’65, Grad ’66, ’70), charged with raising funds for John Paul Jones Arena, a $131 million project.
In retirement, Holland was an ambassador for Cavalier athletics. During Virginia’s run to the national championship in 2019, fans in Minneapolis chanted his name as he walked from his seat to the concourse.
“I know there were guys before, but he established what Virginia basketball was,” current coach Tony Bennett says.
Holland also provided a vision of what Virginia athletics could be. His teams were the first in the modern era to enjoy consistent success on a national level, proving that Cavalier teams could compete with the best. These days, Virginia annually ranks among the top overall athletics programs.
“Those that might have been critics of, quote, ‘big time’ athletics could see that success can be had and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the academic traditions and the academic stature of the University,” says Craig Littlepage, who coached under Holland and succeeded him as athletics director.
Born in Clinton, North Carolina, in 1942, Holland was recruited to play basketball at Davidson College by coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, who would become a major influence in his life. As Driesell, 91, tells it, he visited Holland’s home on the day of the Clinton High senior prom. Holland, who was leaning toward attending Wake Forest University, didn’t have a car. So Driesell tossed him the keys to his Ford convertible and stayed to pitch Holland’s mother on the virtues of Davidson.
A standout student and star player for the Wildcats, Holland planned to attend graduate school. But Driesell intervened again and convinced him to join his staff as an assistant coach, he said.
When Driesell left to coach at the University of Maryland in 1969, Holland succeeded him at Davidson.
Holland was 32 when he came to Virginia and already had 92 wins on his resume. A few months before he was hired, his Davidson team had come to University Hall and beaten the Cavaliers 64-63.
Wally Walker (Col ’76), a star forward on that team, still bristles at the memory. Holland’s Wildcats held him to six points—11 below his average. When Holland was hired, Walker wondered what that meant for his career. “All this guy knew about me is I stunk it up against Davidson,” he says.
Under Holland’s tutelage, Walker became a more complete player and, in 1976, the hero of the first UVA team to win the ACC tournament. Skeptics who were inclined to believe the title was a fluke—as the Cavaliers had enjoyed the occasional good season over the years, only to regress to their mean of mediocrity—didn’t know Holland, who was just getting started.
“He projected that gentlemanly presence,” says Jeff Jones (Col ’82), who played and coached under Holland and later succeeded him as coach. “But he was extremely demanding.”
The program’s big turning point came in 1979, when Holland signed 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson (Col ’83), the nation’s most sought-after high school player.
“He was a visionary, a positive coach,” former player Bobby Stokes (Educ ’79, Med ’84) told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Stokes became Holland’s doctor after the former coach was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2019.
Holland fought the illness for four years. In a 2020 interview with Virginia Magazine given with the assistance of his wife, Ann, he deflected credit for the success his teams enjoyed.
“Everybody pulled together to make it happen,” he said. “It’s not really any one person.”
Holland is survived by his wife; daughters Ann-Michael Holland (Col ’97) and Kate Baynard; and three grandchildren.