900 Wins & Counting: Brother Larry Holley Continues to Shape Lives the Way Lambda Chi Shaped His
He dabbled in a little bit of everything — cross country, track, pep band, chapel choir, student government.
But nothing changed Larry Holley’s life quite like basketball and Lambda Chi.
Together, the two shaped him into an award-winning coach — one who has more than 900 wins under his belt — and a mentor and lifelong friend to his players and brothers.
“Of all the activities I was in at William Jewell, my best experience was Lambda Chi Alpha,” Holley said. “Watching the leaders when I joined Lambda Chi, how they led and how they influenced me, certainly helped me.”
Having grown up in a small town and graduated from a rural high school, Holley chose to attend William Jewell because it was the kind of college that would allow him to do things besides just basketball.
His dad, who was also a coach and a schools superintendent, did not want his son to go the coaching route.
“Quite candidly, my dad tried to talk me out of becoming a basketball coach because he knew that on Tuesday and Friday nights, everybody was smarter than the basketball coach,” Holley said.
He did not want him to join a fraternity either, but he eventually relented.
“At the time, I was the only basketball player in the fraternity, so it allowed me to spend time with other people who weren’t athletes and allowed me to broaden my horizons,” Holley said.
Little did he know at the time he would spend most of his adult life there — on that small, Midwest campus outside Kansas City.
He has been head coach of the Cardinals for four decades. He graduated from William Jewell in 1967 and returned to Liberty, Mo. to take the reigns in 1979.
“I had such an amazing experience as an athlete at William Jewell, it was something I just couldn’t turn down,” he said. “It was the perfect place for me as a college athlete and it’s been the perfect place for me as a small college coach.”
Holley is something of a celebrity in the college basketball world, joining the ranks of Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Adloph Rupp.
The reason he remains at William Jewell is simple — he gets invited to a lot of weddings, he joked.
Honestly, the reason he stays is the revolving door of players he gets to help shape into not only great basketball players, but great men.
“Watching them live their lives, I often say that my success or failure is going to be based on what those young men do with their lives,” Holley said.
A number of his former players have become coaches themselves. Others are doctors, lawyers, teachers.
He continues to instill what he learned as an undergraduate member of Lambda Chi Alpha in the players he coaches today.
“There are a few phrases he repeats a lot, and one of them is, ‘Control what you can’t control,’” said Patrick Whelan, a guard for the Cardinals. “As a player, that phrase taught me to always give 100 percent.”
The players agree Holley makes sure they apply his advice off the court, too.
Cardinals Forward Jackson Golightly was contacted by Holley last summer. His first impression of the short man with gray hair, laugh lines and a smile that often takes over his face was that he is way more than a basketball coach.
“He’s a personable mentor who’s also a friend,” Golightly said. “He does everything. He really does it all. Right when you meet him, you can tell he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been there before. He’s a smart, fun loving basketball guru who likes the game and loves his players.”
William Jewell President Elizabeth Walls can attest to that.
“What’s amazing is he remembers his students’ stories — their journey’s,” Walls said. “For every person, he can recall the ark of their experience at Jewell and beyond.”
That is what makes Holley so special, she said. He cherishes and supports every student.
“The Jewell philosophy is that we’re critical thinkers in community pursuing meaningful lives,” Walls said.
“One of the things about Coach Holley that is so powerful is his expectation of his students, that they’re going to be successful in the classroom and they’re going to be successful on the court, but most importantly that they’re going to be successful in their lives.”
Jimmie Williams is one of Holley’s assistant coaches at William Jewell.
“The energy that Coach Holley brings is just infectious to everybody,” Williams said. “It’s wild — a 72 year old bringing that kind of energy every single day.”
To his assistant’s, Holley is more than a coach and a mentor, he is a role model; 900 wins is something only a handful of college coaches have ever accomplished.
“It just means I’ve been coaching a long time,” Holley said, chuckling.
“You don’t win that number of games … I haven’t scored a point or made an assist or gotten a rebound or made a steal. But to have those players come in and agree to what we’re trying to do offensively and defensively is so rewarding. Watching them develop during the course of the season…” his voice trailed off.
“Looking back on it, unfortunately, I will probably remember the losses more than the wins.”
But the wins are what he will be remembered for. That, and how much he cared about his players on and off the court.
For more, check out the Spring Issue of the Cross & Crescent here.
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