After taking the helm 41 years ago, Mid-America Christian University men's basketball coach Willie Holley has decided the 2014-15 campaign will be his last.
Holley enters this season, his 42nd at MACU, with 788 victories that puts him second all-time in the NAIA.
The University of Louisiana-Monroe graduate has been a fixture at MACU since 1973 when he assumed the duties of head coach and Athletic Director and held the dual positions until 2012.
"I am very excited about the upcoming season with a good group of seniors returning and a tremendous recruiting class," Holley said.
"It is hard to believe it will have been 42 years coaching the game I love, at least until I look in the mirror each morning when I shave. Truly, the association with the young men on a yearly basis has helped me stay young at heart and excited about the opportunity to teach life lessons through the game of basketball. I have been blessed to have spent my entire coaching career at one institution and to have had so many quality student-athletes."
Holley led the Evangels to four National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) National Championships and guided the program in the transition to an NAIA school beginning with the 2007-08 campaign.
Anthony Nero, now in his eighth year as an Assistant Coach under Holley, reveals the influence he has had not only on his coaching career but also in his personal life as well.
"Obviously basketball wise, when you spend seven seasons coaching under and also playing for him you will learn the X's and O's of the game," Nero said.
"But for me, it's been more of a spiritual impact he's had on my life now that I'm an Assistant Pastor. The thing I've took from Coach Holley is he's a man of prayer, as there's nothing too small or too big that he doesn't pray about. That's the greatest impact he's had on me as a coach and as a person."
Since joining the NAIA, Holley has instilled a work ethic and culture that has led the Evangels to become an upper echelon team in the rugged Sooner Athletic Conference in a short period of time.
The 2012-13 season served as a launching pad for the Evangels' success in the SAC when Holley led a squad that finished tied for eighth in the conference and out of the postseason tournament the previous season to a tie for third and the third seed in the SAC tourney.
Last season, the Evangels took another step by jumping into a tie for second place in the conference and went on to win the program's first ever SAC tournament game. The Evangels missed advancing to the NAIA tournament in Kansas City for the first time in school history by one spot in the final NAIA Top 25 coaches' poll.
Holley has coached an NAIA All-America performer the past four seasons, including returning senior guard Semar Farris, who was an NAIA second-team All-America selection last year.
Along with Farris, the Evangels welcome back three other starters from last season that should not only give Holley his milestone 800th victory but will also have the potential to end Holley's decorated tenure with that elusive trip to Kansas City.
Farris, along with four-year players Reggie Davis and Josh Smith, also talk about the impact Holley has had on them throughout their college playing career.
"He impacted me both on and off the court, but really more off the court," Farris said.
"I was a different person when I got here and just being part of this basketball team really helped me find myself as a person and I'm a better man because of that. He's like a father figure to me because I can talk to him about anything and anytime I need advice he's there for me. He's a great man."
"When I came into the program I was a little immature and he helped me grow from a boy into a man," Davis said. "He had plenty of chances to give up on me but never did. I've got a lot respect for him and I thank him for that."
"He's not only impacted me growing as a man, but also spiritually with my relationship with God," Smith said. "I didn't know much about that when I got here but he's helped me grow in that area."