My last conversation with basketball coach legend William Jewell Larry Holley came less than three months before he passed away this past May at the age of 76.
We were discussing the book he was writing when he asked me about my grandparents.
Holley had recalled a conversation we’d had years earlier when I mentioned that my mother’s parents had come from Massachusetts to attend Jewell and often spoke fondly of their few years in Liberty. Holley invited me to campus to check out the yearbooks from that era.
That was Holley. Kind and thoughtful with a knack for connection, like most successful coaches. And this emerges in his book, “My First Name is ‘Coach’, Stories from a Life Well-Lived,” co-written by Holley’s wife, Linda, and Kansas City-based author David Smale.
The job required overtime.
Smale was working on a few chapters and heard the news of Holley’s death while watching the latest local news. He immediately called Linda.
“He said in that phone call we were going to finish the book,” Smale said.
Holley had said he didn’t want his first book to be about coaching methods or read like an autobiography. Initially he planned to depict his life and career with hundreds of cartoons.
But as a team that fits the gap, it rearranged itself into narrative form, and more than half of the book is devoted to William Jewell’s career, where he spent 40 of his 48 years in the industry.
Along the way, Holley passed the likes of Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Roy Williams on the career coaching wins list. Holley’s 918 ranked 10th when he retired in 2019 and is the most by any coach who has spent most of his career at Missouri or Kansas.
There were 12 conference title teams, 25 that won at least 20 games and four that won at least 30. His Cardinals teams made 14 NAIA tournament appearances, including three Elite Eights and four Final Fours, and he led transitioning the program from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.
“My Name is ‘Coach’” is available at LarryHolleyBook.com and in local bookstores.