Holland Holds Forth on Sports
A pair of maroon armchairs, side by side, set the stage at Owens Auditorium for last Thursday’s opening event as the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series celebrated the start of its 25th year with a conversation on college sports.
Instead of a single speaker at a lectern, there were two men who love the game — almost any game, especially when played by young people. One, The Pilot’s writer-in-residence and editor of both PineStraw and the new O.Henry magazines, was Jim Dodson. The other was East Carolina University’s Terry Holland, now director of athletics at Dodson’s old school.
“Go Pirates!” was the silent, unvoiced exclamation on both faces throughout, though each from time to time deigned to recognize some accomplishments of teams from alien campuses like one at Chapel Hill — and another at Winston-Salem.
That Wake Forest college campus had been Holland’s dreamed-of destination as a high school star athlete. He illustrated his own life as a college recruiter by telling how legendary recruiter Charles “Lefty” Dreisell took him instead to Davidson.
“Lefty Dreisell buttressed his income selling encyclopedias door-to-door,” Holland said, recalling the night his destiny changed course. “He sat at our dining room table, ate two steaks and asked me to come to Davidson instead of Wake Forest.”
Holland wasn’t about to do that. He meant to join Len Chappell at Wake Forest, wear Old Gold and Black and take orders from famed coach “Bones” McKinney. Dreisell, however, was a powerful persuader and seemed to know instinctively what to tell this particular high school senior.
“If you come to Davidson we are going to have a top 10 team just like the one at Wake Forest,” he told young Holland.
Holland had doubts about that. Wake was already a top team.
“I know he doesn’t know what he is talking about,” Holland said, remembering how he figured to escape the sales pitch. “Luckily it was prom night. Ann was waiting for me to come pick her up. ‘It has been so nice meeting you,’ I said, ‘but it’s prom night and I have to go.’ He shook my hand, said, ‘Well, take my car.’ And he handed me his keys.”
Sometime during the night, dancing the prom away with his future wife in his arms, something suddenly clicked.
“It hits me,” he said. “I have left Lefty at home with my mother.”
By the time he got home to hand back the car keys, Holland found he’d been signed, sealed and delivered — a done deal with a master salesman. He was going from Wake to Wildcat.
“Not only was I going to Davidson, we had a full set of encyclopedias,” he said.
He’d learned his first lesson in recruiting student-athletes.
“Number one, recruit the mothers,” Holland said. “They make the decisions.”
But Dreisell taught him something more, something he said was even more important, something he’s tried to do all his life.
“If you are going to dream, daggone it, dream big!” Holland said. “We went from winning no games to being in the top 10, third in the country. Lefty did teach me a great deal. The number one thing was never to give up.
“He learned that selling encyclopedias door-to-door. He demanded that we went to class, did well in class. He is probably the only coach at that level that coached two Rhodes scholars that year.”
Holland received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Davidson in 1964 after earning three letters as a member of the Wildcats’ varsity basketball program. He began his coaching career at Davidson as an assistant coach that same year and was promoted to the top position five years later, where he earned three Southern Conference Coach of the Year awards.
Coaches have their own styles, Dodson said. He asked Holland about his.
“You never struck me as a yelling coach,” Dodson said, tossing the ball back to the coach.
“That is because you weren’t sitting close enough to the bench to hear what I was saying,” Holland said. “If you could hear the crazy things I say during a game… well, you wouldn’t want to be near me. I fire players; I fire coaches — on both sides.”
Holland became head men’s basketball coach at the University of Virginia in 1974, where he became the winningest coach in the school’s history.
His final project at Virginia was fulfilling his dream of leaving the university with a bigger basketball arena.
“It turned out to be a fantastic facility,” Holland said. “But what would be my next project?”
He said he thought about spending his next years with a series of short projects at various places. That wasn’t what East Carolina University had in mind when they asked him to return as athletic director one more time.
When Holland told them he thought he might be willing to spend six months or a year as athletic director, he found they wanted a little longer stay. He’s been there seven years now — so far. One thing he’s tried to do is bring back the excitement of game day — a day when fans of both teams are able to get to the field and see the game live.
“There is such a visceral connection between East Carolina graduates and their university,” he said. “They know they are expected to serve, and they do.”
Closeness is what makes college athletics what it is, he said. Time was when you could name every player on every team.
“How many of you today can name the 12 coaches in the league?” he asked, with no response. “There are 50 games on television now. At one time, you could name every starter on every team. Something has happened to that closeness of rivalries.”
That is what his nonconference schedule is meant to build: games with nearby opponents where both sides are at the game.
“When we play Carolina or N.C. State, there is a great deal of interest in those games,” he said. “What we try to do is schedule a game where the fans of both teams can get to the games.”
He knows the job of an athletic director is driven by cooperation.
“Basically, I walk around taking credit for what other people do,” he said. “My job is to coach the Pirate nation.”
Money has taken the sport out of sports, both agreed. Dodson doesn’t watch pro football anymore, he said.
“This pro mentality has crept down, but they can buy their players,” Holland said. “We are recruiting. Those (players) are people whose sons and daughters are going to consider us one day. We tried to coach the Pirate nation to work together as a team.”
The flood of money into sports has changed sports. Nobody works for the love of the game these days; they work for the big paycheck — that means not taking risks, certainly not taking risks for the sport of the thing. Too many contests pit a sure winner against a sure loser.
“Why has it reached this point?” Dodson asked. “It is worse than professional wrestling. Professional wrestling is fixed — but at least we don’t know who is going to win.”
Holland said he hopes there will be changes. It was not always this way.
“You did your job because you loved it, not because of the money,” he said. “I think we are seeing throughout our country what it looks like when that happens.”
There were questions, and then all moved to the customary after-lecture refreshments served by the Ruth Pauley board.
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