11 Heart of America Athletic Conference titles, 14 teams to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Tournament, four Final Four teams, three Elite Eight teams, 14 Coach of the Year awards and 877 career wins. But head men’s basketball coach Larry Holley’s journey all began on a homemade hoop in Jameson, Mo.
Reminiscing about hours spent in the gym with his father Holley recalled the desire to play basketball from a young age.
“From the moment I have any memory of my life, basketball has been a major part of that. They say I was shooting baskets at the age of three,” Holley said. “I grew up in northwest, central Missouri. I grew up thinking if I played at the college level, I would play at Northwest Missouri State, but William Jewell expressed an interest my senior year of high school.” Holley said.
While a student at Jewell, Holley was a tri-athlete and participated in basketball, cross-country and track and field. Off the court and field Holley was president of Lambda Chi Alpha, president of the J club, vice president of the senior class, a member of Aeons, senior men’s honorary fraternity, a member of the concert and in pep bands and Chapel Choir all four years.
“I had two different coaches. I had Darrell Gourley, who comes to all of our games and is 91-years-old, and Jim Nelson was my basketball coach. Those two gentlemen presented me with an opportunity. I played JV and varsity my freshman year, played enough to letter then became a starter mid-way through my sophomore year. I had a perspective going to a tiny high school. I had never sat on the bench, so my best experience was the year and a half I wasn’t a starter, when I became a starter second semester my sophomore year. I then started every game for the rest of my career. From a coaching standpoint looking back on it, that was a great opportunity for me. I wasn’t happy about it because I wanted to play more; I wanted to be a starter, but there were really good players here when I came, and I didn’t deserve to start at the time.” Holley said.
After receiving three conference titles and making it to the national tournament Holley headed to University of Missouri (MU) to receive his masters, holding the position as the general manager of the physical education department. The same year Norman Stuart became MU head basketball coach. Holley was fortunate enough to sit in on practices to gain insight about Stewart’s coaching philosophy.
“My general coaching philosophy is to create an environment where student athletes feel like they can reach their potential individually and then put a program in, offensively and defensively, and all the things that are part of a basketball program where, collectively, they can feel like they are successful. My philosophy of coaching, specifically [for] basketball, has evolved over the years, but my philosophy of coaching is to provide that environment. My dad was a coach, and that is what I saw him do with his athletes.” Holley said.
Coaching multiple teams was not a question, as he had watched his father and high school coach do the same. From playing to breaking it down to signing his first head-coaching contract at the age of 23 for Central Methodist College, Holley accepted every challenge.
“I started out teaching the things I learned as a player, and now I have gone to clinics, workshops, high school and college practices of coaches I respected at an early age. I still learn. I have a first year assistant coach, Jimmie Williams, fantastic young coach, and he comes from North Greenville College in South Carolina, where they put in what is called the pack line defense. We have kind of been toying with that for the last couple years; well, here’s somebody who had coached it for three or four years, so having him here has helped significantly that has helped what we are able to do defensively,” Holley said.
Amazed with the camaraderie and work ethic of Jewell’s men’s team, Holley was pleased to end this year’s season with a victory against Rockhurst. The win, along with homecoming hall of fame inductions and the new team room dedicated to assistant coach Lee Karriker was one of Holley’s favorite highlights from this year.
“The 19 lockers in that room, we were getting them sponsored from guys who played for Lee, so that was special. When Lee’s wife came and spoke to the team, that might be the moment, our first game in the team room with our new lockers and the coach’s wife who it’s named after being there.” Holley said.
The night they gave out this award was the same night as the Rockhurst game and the night Holley matched his top 10 all time career wins.
“I didn’t realize it at the time. I knew if I had a good year, I had a good chance to pass three very significant coaches. Well, we didn’t have a great year; I think I needed five wins to pass Jim Calhoun, the retired Connecticut coach who had 873, and it took nine to pass Adolph Rupp who was a legendary coach at the University of Kentucky, and we didn’t do that until the last game of the year. I am now two behind Dean Smith, the legendary coach at North Carolina, Michael Jordan and all those teams. So it’s not embarrassing to ever pass anyone like that but to do it in a year – we only won nine games – I felt like we should have won at least 15 or more. I was actually sitting here a day or two later and realized, ‘Oh I just passed him,’” Holley said.
Holley lives by his father’s philosophy: If your pastures are greener, then other people will see them. Holley has imparted this to the team along with the motto give 100 percent of all you have all the time; that means even when you’re tired.
“I have been honored to have great players who made me a lot smarter than I deserve to be, great assistant coaches, very supportive administrators. None of this happens in a vacuum. Maybe most of all my very supportive family and that’s been very rewarding. I enjoy seeing when they [past players] come back and play in the alumni game and they have lost some hair and I get to meet their wives and kids, and sometimes parents or foster parents of the team for them will come back. I still look forward to practice everyday, so we will see where it leads. Hopefully we can get to our goal of competing for conference titles at the NCAA division II,” Holley said.