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Virginia's basketball coaching tree set its roots in 1984
ACC coach of the year Jim Larranaga was part of a staff that made a huge imprint on the league.
Courtesy of Virginia
Virginia head coach Terry Holland (third from right) had a staff of assistants that included Dave Odom (left), Jeff Jones, Seth Greenberg (center, seated, leaning forward) and Jim Larranaga. All but Jones went on to become the ACC coach of the year.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
Twenty-nine years after an improbable Virginia run to the Final Four, members of the Cavaliers’ 1984 coaching staff are continuing to have an impact on men’s college basketball.
The selection of Miami’s Jim Larranaga as ACC coach of the year marked the eighth time a member of that UVa staff has received that honor.
“And, if we’d been able to beat Clemson on Senior Night, maybe it would have been nine,” said ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg, referring to his 2008 team at Virginia Tech.
Greenberg was at Virginia for one year, 1984, but continues to feel a kinship with a staff that included head coach Terry Holland and assistants Larranaga, Dave Odom, Jeff Jones and Tom Perrin, the only one not to become a Division I head coach.
Holland already had been named ACC coach of the year in 1981 and ’82. Odom was named ACC coach of the year three times at Wake Forest and Greenberg twice at Virginia Tech.
Jones, who was 29 when he was named to succeed Holland in the spring of 1990, had a meteoric start to his UVa coaching career. He won 105 games in his first five seasons, taking the Cavaliers to the 1994 ACC title game and to the 1995 Midwest Regional final.
Jones was never named ACC coach of the year, but he received 27 votes for the honor in 1995, when he finished second to Odom in the balloting.
“Dave’s got enough of those awards,” Holland said. “Wouldn’t you think he could give one of them to Jeff?”
With all of the coaching firepower on that UVa staff, maybe it’s no surprise that the Cavaliers reached the Final Four in 1984, the year after three-time national player of the year Ralph Sampson completed his eligibility.
However, as Holland contemplated this year’s NCAA tournament selections, he doesn’t see how the 1984 UVa team would have made the field under the current selection process.
This year’s Virginia team went 11-7 in the ACC during the regular season. Holland’s 1984 team was 6-8.
“That team went downhill quickly and after we got back from the ACC Tournament, I was begging the NIT to send us on the road [and] as far away as they could put us,” Holland said.
It was during the 1984 NCAA tournament run, Holland said, that the Cavaliers started to utilize the talents of Bob Rotella, a UVa professor who has become one of the nation’s premier sports psychologists and one of Larranaga’s close confidants.
“Every night, Bob had us lie on the floor and visualize how we wanted the games to unfold,” Holland said. “He gave these breathing techniques and it was all very relaxing, so relaxing that I kept falling asleep.”
The staff would remain intact for two more seasons, after which Larranaga was named head coach at Bowling Green, his first head coaching job since he had directed the program at Division II American International from 1977 to ’79.
Greenberg had left after one season to take a full-time position under Miami of Florida coach Bill Foster. However, he has always credited Holland, Odom and Co. for jump-starting his career during a one-year stopover in Charlottesville.
“I knew that Terry Holland was brilliant, that Dave Odom was a great teacher and that Jim Larranaga really cared about the game and the players,” Greenberg said. “I knew that Jeff Jones was very bright and had a toughness about him that would be reflected in his personality.
“I just tried to make sure the coffee was hot.”
If you count Greenberg’s victories, Virginia’s 1984 staff would have to rank among the winningest in college basketball history. But then you’d have to count Mike Krzyzewski, who had a Greenberg-like role on Bob Knight’s 1974-75 Indiana staff.
Knight and aides Dave Bliss, Bob Donewald and Bob Weltlich won a total of 2,806 games by themselves and Krzyzewski has 954.
If it were Greenberg’s call, “I’d want to be counted,” he said.
And, he should be, according to Odom.
“He was good with the game,” Odom said, “but he was comic relief in those days. We had a bunch of jokesters on the staff and he was our pinata. You know what else he did — he kept us in touch with the outside world.”
Looking back, Odom said he continues to marvel at the 1984 UVa athletic department:
George Welsh became the winningest football coach in school history, athletic director Dick Schultz became the executive director of both the NCAA and U.S. Olympic Committee, soccer coach Bruce Arena coached in both the Olympics and the World Cup, and women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan was named to the hall of fame.
“Then there was this guy, Geno Auriemma,” said Odom, referring to Ryan’s one-time aide, who has won seven NCAA titles as the head coach at Connecticut. “I told him, ‘C’mon, man, what are you doing coaching girls?’ I guess he who laughs first, laughs last. He reminds me of that every time I see him.”
Odom, who turned 70 in October, does basketball commentary on television and hasn’t officially retired from coaching, in case somebody wants to talk. Larranaga, who took George Mason to the 2006 Final Four, is 63.
“Honestly, I write down a lot of goals before each season and I’ve written down ‘win coach of the year,’ I think, 27 times,” Larranaga said. “It’s nice that every once in a while it actually happens.”
Odom said, “It is absolutely as if I were sitting on the bench with him. That would be the only thing that could have made it better for me.”
One memory of Larranaga from the UVa days was the technical foul he picked up in the ACC Tournament title game in Atlanta, where the Cavaliers lost to North Carolina State 81-78.
Larranaga has since adopted a more professorial manner, pacing the sideline without unbuttoning his suit jacket.
“It’s the help of guys like [Bob Rotella] and friends in the coaching profession that has transformed me from being a maniac in my 30s whose wife told me,‘You coach every dribble, every pass, every defensive possession like you’re in the game,’ ” Larranaga said.
“I don’t do that anymore.”
Miami’s victory in Sunday’s ACC title game enabled Larranaga to join Odom and Holland among the ranks of coaches with ACC titles, but these guys don’t spend a lot of time marking milestones.
“Nobody ever said, ‘Look at us; look at how good we are,’ ” said Odom, who won back-to-back titles at Wake Forest in 1995-96. “That was the beauty of it.”
There’s no telling how history might have been different if Holland, then 48, had not retired from coaching at the end of the 1990 season. He retired again this year after two decades as an athletic director at Davidson, UVa and East Carolina.
“Even though he was a great coach, Terry always felt there was more to life than basketball, so he was destined not to be a lifer,” Odom said. “He was always into other things.”
Holland has never strayed far from basketball, however, doing TV commentary for a time and serving as chairman of the NCAA Basketball Committee.
“People still ask me why I got out when I did,” Holland said. “I really miss coaching basketball at tournament time because basketball is such a great tournament game, but the rest of it I don’t miss that much.
“As I said at the time or shortly afterward, coaches can leave their job in one of two ways. Either they die on the job or they get fired, and I didn’t like either one.”
At least part of his legacy is his coaching tree and, clearly, it hasn’t stopped growing.
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