After the game, when he was asked how he was feeling, Terry Holland quickly answered, "Fine."
"I really do," he said.
Then, patting the lower right side of his belly, Holland allowed that he'd had "some twitches in here -- but that's mostly psychological." He explained that he was "sure I always had them, but it's like I'm looking for them now . . . I did the same thing right after the operation in May. Every time my stomach rumbled, I wondered if I was having a flare-up."
He smiled embarrassedly.
"But I feel good now. Really."
On Monday night, after getting permission from his doctors, Holland resumed his bench duties as Virginia's basketball coach for the first time since he was struck with severe intestinal discomfort 16 days previously; in the interim, Holland, 42, missed four games, which Virginia split. Conditions for his return were propitious: a nonconference home game against an unranked opponent in George Washington. And after Virginia won a sloppy, gap-toothed game, 51-42, Holland, who, as expected, looked rather drawn, even managed to joke about his health. "It felt good at the end. But during the game, I thought if we turned it over much more, I'd be back in the hospital."
Even after an operation for an intestinal blockage in May, and a barrage of tests the last two weeks, Holland is not sure exactly what's wrong with him. He said the doctors have located an enzyme in his blood that isn't as prevalent as it should be, and that they're "sort of zeroing in on it as a possibility." But there is no definitive diagnosis.
"The good news is," Holland grinned and said in his characteristic soft and laconic style, "there's nothing wrong. The bad news is, it could happen again."
It's an admirable quality Holland has, the ease with which he prods gentle, self-deprecating laughter. But he would not be human if he was not nervous about the bad news part. Which he was. And, perhaps, still is.
"Of course, you imagine all sorts of things," Holland said. He was seated on a table in the University Hall equipment room; boosting himself up onto a table must be quite familiar to him now. "I guess a lot of people would rather have a diagnosis, as terrible as it might be -- cancer, or something like it -- than to have the uncertainty." He shrugged. "Things don't have to be black and white for me; I'm not that kind of person. If what I have is irregular bowel syndrome, and it can occur next week or in 10 years, I'll deal with that."
Since he mentioned it, I asked Holland about cancer. Had he thought he had it?
As ever, he was direct and truthful. "It's the first thing you think about. You think there's something there that they're not finding, even with all their sophisticated testing. Or something they're not telling you."
Did he ask about it?
"Not right away. But they were very conscious after the exploratory surgery to tell me right away it wasn't cancer."
Something like a sigh filled the room.
"It's a relief," Holland said. "But at the same time I was hurting so, that I thought to myself: maybe it's not the kind they've seen; maybe it's some kind they haven't seen." Another shrug. It's human nature. You come up with all sorts of weird thoughts you really don't need.
It seems that coaching is one of the public professions most susceptible to pain, anxiety and stress. We've all looked at the sidelines and the benches and seen those tortured grimaces from coaches like Don Coryell and Jerry Tarkanian. We've read of coaches like Ray Mears, who had to resign as Tennessee basketball coach because of mental and physical exhaustion. Barely more than two years ago, Bill Foster of South Carolina had a heart attack in his office minutes after a game and underwent bypass surgery. More recently, Jack Hartman of Kansas State had bypass surgery. Most recently -- yesterday, in fact -- Tom Osborne, the football coach at Nebraska, had bypass surgery. Coaches seem to live in a world of long hours, late meals and large expectations.
"I love to coach," Foster said. "I asked the doctors what I could do to get back to coaching and the life I enjoy. They told me my best hope was to get the surgery, so I did. Stress is my opponent now; my doctor is my coach, and I have to be coachable. I used to think I was Superman. I know better now."
The other Bill Foster -- Miami's Bill Foster -- is a close friend of Holland and Hartman. "It's worrisome when you see guys you really respect going out with a stomach or a heart problem," he said. "It's a terribly stressful occupation. I know I've been to doctors late at night, thinking maybe that I'm having a heart attack, and luckily it's just been gas. No one knows how much stuff is going on inside you. It boils. Sometimes it feels like it's going to burst."
The doctors haven't told Holland that his problem is stress related. And in any case, how would they measure which would cause him more stress, coaching or not coaching?
They haven't told him to quit. They tell him everything is fine. Just take it slowly for a while.
So this week, instead of pacing during practice, he's been sitting in a chair. And against GW, most of the time Holland sat on the bench impassively, now and again clapping politely for one of his players, like he was at a dance recital. Except for those four times he leaped off the bench in the last three minutes of the first half. Once to protest a foul called on one of his players; once to plead for a 10-second call; twice to demand justice -- and walking against GW.
"He was up and down more than I expected him to be," Tim Mullen, a Virginia starter, said after the game. "I guess he's got a lot of energy stored up."
Not really, Holland said. Then, as something like a sparkle briefly lit his tired eyes, Holland shyly admitted, "Sometimes, you've just got to remind them that you're back in town."