During the question and answer portion of the greeting with members of the Wolfpack Club, the former five-time All-American and two-time ACC Coach of the Year was asked a simple question. “Can NC State win a national title?” Holloway’s answer was like his approach to the stage -- succinct, but also clear in his message to Wolfpack Nation.
“Yes,” Holloway said simply.
It is easy to believe the former NC State great who has four seasons under his belt as head coach at his alma mater. The Pack completed an undefeated season in the ACC to clinch a conference title and placed eighth-overall at the NCAA Championships. This past campaign was the first time in school history that both the men’s and women’s programs finished in the top-20.
While there is no question that Holloway is happy with the progress the Wolfpack has made since he was hired in 2011 after seven seasons as an assistant at Virginia Tech, he is already looking ahead to climbing the next hurdle. When asked if he is pleased with where NC State stands, the reply would have been much better immediately after the season.
“I think if you’d have asked me that three months ago I would say ‘yes’ but now I am not,” Holloway said. “That season is over. I will cherish it. I will look back and I am happy of the result that our teams had, especially for our men, but definitely not satisfied. I want more.”
“There is a new plan,” Holloway added. “Start at step one. We have got to capitalize off our men’s season. We have got to continue to build the women. The women I want to be at a higher level than we are. I want our women to rival what our men have created.”
Holloway grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was firmly ensconced in Tiger Country both at home and with his family’s deep LSU roots. He sought a different adventure coming out of high school and that led him to NC State, where he excelled in the pool before graduating in 2001.
After a post college career that led him to a marketing job in Chicago, Holloway’s life slowly gravitated back to swimming. After leaving Louisiana, each stop in Holloway’s life has impacted the decisions he has made and his style of coaching.
“I wanted something different,” Holloway recalled. “I grew up in LSU country. I grew up with LSU a big part of my heritage and my family and it still has a pretty important part of my life but I wanted something different. I wanted to experience something new and do things on my own. When I took trips, [NC State] felt most like home but also being away from home. I felt the most comfortable here.”
“I think I always had different thoughts during college. Obviously, I was a part of a team who wanted to win. As a team player, playing on a team, you are trying to help your team and you are part of the experience. Then I was hired by a team to coach up north and that just got me back into the swimming aspect, coaching all different age groups and once I got to that point I realized that I wanted to coach college. I like the older kids and being able to relate to them pretty well. I just liked how the college formats works.”
“I honestly never really thought about a dream job," he added. "I think I just wanted to get into it. I found a home with a Division III school to start the college part and that was good. Then I got a great opportunity at Virginia Tech. My wife and I were happy there. We probably would have stayed a lot longer, but this job opened up and it is like, ‘Hey, not too many people get an opportunity to coach at their alma mater.’ It is kind of a neat opportunity. I’d be a fool not to look at it.”
After looking at it, Holloway decided to make the move to NC State. While there is often an intrinsic nature that will lead coaches back to their alma mater, there was not the type of facilities on campus that would have most observers believing the Wolfpack could compete at a championship level.
That was not a deterrent for Holloway -- who is married to former NC State swimmer Mary Mittendorf and earned his master’s degree while at Virginia Tech -- as he views the facilities as not a place for glamor but simply where the work the gets done.
“For me, because I swam [at NC State], I didn’t really care,” Holloway said. “Other people, if they were on an interview and they didn’t swim in that pool they would look at it as a handicap. It is a training facility. It is not a glorious place where we are going to have championship meets, and I don’t need it to be. I just need it to be a clock-in, go to work and clock-out type of facility.”
Now that the Pack are among the nation’s elite, the response among potential recruits is heartening to Holloway, leading him to believe that NC State will continue to build towards a national title.
“I think when Debbie [Yow] brought me in she expected it to get a lot better. I don’t know if the athletic department thought it would happen this fast. It is a lot easier to reach out to the club coaches and the high school coaches. The feedback is a lot better from prospects. We get feedback quicker and kids with a higher level of talent are starting to communicate with us."
The vast improvement and success that has brought on the recruiting trail is what Holloway hopes is the genesis of a long and productive tenure at NC State.
“I love it here,” Holloway said. "[I] have a connection here. I don’t know how long I will be doing this, and I don’t try to think about it. When the passion is still there, I am going to keep going off of it. I see it being here for a long, long time."