After turning the Henry County boys’ basketball program from a 3-23 team in 2005 to 22-9 in 2009, Jason Holland has decided to back away from the position and accept the coaching job at nearby Oldham County.
Of course this was not an easy decision, Holland said, but he jumped at the opportunity to coach at a larger school with basketball-rich tradition. Gary Forrest retired after 21 years at Oldham that included five 8th Region titles, an overall 439-162 record and nine regional Coach of the Year honors. Holland announced his decision on Friday, May 22, with two official meetings — one with the Oldham players and another, two hours later, with the Henry players.
“It was a tough decision in the fact that I’ve worked so hard to build Henry County and get the program going in the right direction,” Holland said. “It’s hard to leave the kids and the people I’ve gotten close to. At this point in my life, I thought it was the best decision for me.”
May 22 was full of mixed emotions for Holland, who was pleased to meet with his new players at OCHS for the first time but also disappointed to tell the breaking news to his old team at HCHS. It was one of his most exciting days and one of his worst days bundled into one.
“To meet the Oldham kids was one of the happier moments in my life, then I had to go meet the Henry kids and that was one of my saddest,” Holland said. “The Henry players weren’t very happy — some were very mad at me and I understood that. I told them I would be mad, too. We had built something together. Some players I had been coaching for five years and some I started coaching when they were in the third grade. When something like this happens, you can feel like you’re being abandoned. But I love the kids at Henry County. They’ve been great to me. I’m still going to come to their games, watch them play and continue to care about them. It was definitely a tough day.”
While it might have been a surprise to the Henry players and the community, it was not a complete surprise to HCHS.
“Holland has kept us informed and we appreciate that like we appreciate everything he’s done for our program,” HCHS Athletics Director Todd Gilley said. “He’s a hard worker and we hope he’s happy over there. I really think he was Oldham’s No. 1 choice. We will miss him but it’s part of the coaching world. On behalf of the school, we would like to thank Holland for everything he’s done.”
During Holland’s tenure, the Wildcats accumulated a 63-76 record, advanced to the regional tournament twice and Holland was named regional Coach of the Year following the 2007 season.
When Holland first accepted the Henry position, the Wildcats were coming off a 4-22 season that included a 65-32 thumping to Anderson County in the first round of the 30th District tournament. They had a roster full of inexperienced players and were led by underclassmen, including a pair of freshman starters — Ben Roberts and Joey Pollard. Holland finished his first year with a regional-worst 3-23 record and a 51-34 loss to Anderson in postseason.
“When I won just three games that first year, they could have just thrown me to the wolves,” Holland admitted. “It would have been easy to do that but they didn’t. That’s how Henry County is. I’ve been supported tremendously in this county, and I’ve been blessed to have been here.”
From that first season forward, Holland turned the program around with only a few blemishes. In 2006, the Wildcats improved to 12-14 and lost to Carroll County in the opening round of the 31st District tournament after the state’s new district alignment; in 2007, the Cats went 19-11, advanced to the district finals and lost to Anderson County in the first round of the 8th Region tournament; in 2008, the Cats went 7-19 and lost to Gallatin County in the first round of the 31st District tournament; and in 2009, the Cats went 22-9, advanced to the district finals, defeated South Oldham in the first round of the 8th Region tournament and lost to Shelby County in the semifinals. It was the first time a Henry boys’ basketball team won a game in the regional tournament in 20 years.
This past season, the Wildcats also won the Richmond Model Holiday Classic, the Gene Kirk Classic and the 8th Region All “A” Classic tournament the first year they were eligible to compete in the All “A” since the 1998-99 school year. At the state tournament, they lost to a tough Shelby Valley squad in the opening round.
After his most successful season during his tenure at HCHS, Holland decided to move over to Oldham — a team that is coming off a 12-10 season, including a 53-51 loss to South Oldham in the 29th District tournament. Oldham’s district opponents include South, North Oldham and Trimble County. Oldham has not been to the regional tournament the last two seasons.
“The fun part of it is the challenge that lies ahead,” said Holland, who has already started open gym at OCHS and plans a busy summer schedule ahead. “The challenge is to go over there, get the excitement back to where they were in the 1990s and try for a regional title each year. I’ll hit the ground running.”
As for Henry, the Wildcats lost five players to graduation — Russell Burgin, Cody Hinkel, Brad Taylor, Steven Tillett and Hayden Yancey — and return key players that should help carry over their success into the 2009-10 school year. Returners include upcoming seniors Pete Baldwin, Connor Jeffries and Trevor Raisor.
Who will coach these players is still a question mark. While Gilley said he expects to have someone in place as early as possible — ideally before summer games — there is not timeline. Finding a replacement will be a careful, well-thought-out process.
“We’ve had a big response so far, which is what we’ve expected,” Gilley said. “We already have some quality applicants that are fitting to our community, school and players. It (the hiring process) is not going to be perfect. You want a coach in place before school is out but, at the same time, you want to be diligent.
“We’re not going to rush the process just to get it done,” he added. “We will find a suitable replacement.”
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