Haddonfield tennis head coach Jeff Holman tries his best to blend into the background.
As he watches the Bulldawgs’ home matches at Centennial Courts, he walks along the edge of the fence, wearing his trademark bucket hat, holding a clipboard under his right arm. Holman’s so still and silent, he practically blends in with the trees and plants separating the courts from the adjacent homes along Lakeview Avenue.
Holman never yells or cheers loudly during matches. The soft-spoken coach instead speaks quietly to his players during changeovers, giving sage advice and positive encouragement whenever they need it.
“He’s a man of few words,” Haddonfield senior Teo Lupinetti said. “But he always knows what to say.”
As much as Holman tries to deflect attention away from himself and onto his players and assistant coaches, Haddonfield and South Jersey tennis would not be where it is today without him. His resume speaks for itself. A 1970 graduate of Haddonfield, Holman has coached the girls team since 1976 and the boys since 1978. Between both programs, he’s the nation’s all-time winningest coach with more than 2,280 victories. He’s also won 68 sectional championships, 30 state titles and three Tournament of Champions titles. He’s been named Coach of the Year by nearly a dozen different organizations during his career and is in no fewer than seven different local halls of fame.
Holman’s accomplishments are impressive, but what many people remember most about Holman isn’t his impressive record or his statistics. People talk about his positive attitude, incredible work ethic and humble nature.
“(He’s) very pleasant, very easy going,” said Mike Bodary, head coach of Moorestown Friends girls tennis. “He’s down to earth, even with all of the success he’s had.”
“Being around Jeff is always a treat, just to see his passion and love for the sport,” added Greg deWolf, head coach of Cherry Hill East boys tennis.
A special thank you to Haddonfield’s coach, Jeff Holman for organizing & running the Camden County Championships. He is the most positive influence on South Jersey ? & we appreciate his love for growing the game. We are lucky to have you, Thanks Coach! pic.twitter.com/UylxKNd73t
— CH East Boys Tennis (@CHE_BoysTennis) April 14, 2019
To say Holman is a very busy man would be an understatement. A guidance counselor at Haddonfield Memorial High School, Holman sat in his office on an overcast May morning and talked about working on the school’s master schedule for the 2019-20 school year and the peer mentorship program.
This work is on top of all of his tennis duties. Holman was preparing for the Colonial Conference Tournament as well as the enormous South Jersey Interscholastic Championship featuring players from all over the region. In between all of that, Holman was also doing his normal duties of coaching a Haddonfield team that had won 16 consecutive South Jersey Group 2 titles entering 2019.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep in the spring,” Holman said with a smile.
While that amount of work may stress out others, Holman goes about his business with a calm, workmanlike demeanor. Holman has this same approach when he’s coaching.
“Everyone wants to play for him,” junior Cole Roddy added. “Everyone to win for him. He’s the type of coach where you want to work your hardest in practices and all the time.”
Holman’s success can partially be attributed to his focus on positive reinforcement and encouraging his players even in the heat of a match.
“You have to use different approaches with different players,” Holman said. “Some players like to talk a lot, even if you’re not talking about anything substantial. Some players would prefer not to talk. They may have a good thing going, and if they’re playing at a good level, talking can interfere with their focus.”
Even with his success, Holman’s job goes well beyond wins. Holman has a no-cut policy and wants any kid interested in the sport to have a chance to play. While many of the players may not see the court in a varsity match, Holman makes sure to get everyone court time during practices or even after matches.
“I learned how to accommodate more people,” Holman said of the biggest lesson he learned as a coach. “It’s important to me that everyone in the program has a valuable experience, not just the best players. With our numbers the way they are now, my coaches and I typically have to have two practices per day to give everybody some time.”
“We try to make it fun for the players,” Holman added. “We try to get them to enjoy the sport. One of our goals is to get them involved as life-long tennis players.”
Holman’s dedication to tennis extends well beyond Haddonfield. In the early 1980s, Holman founded the biggest tournament in the region, the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships, as well as the South Jersey Tennis Coaches Association, the organization in charge of running the tournament as well as organizing the voting to honor South Jersey’s top players each year.
The SJIC began when Holman realized there wasn’t a major event in the region for South Jersey’s top players to face off. The idea was to give those players opportunities to play high-quality matches leading into the state tournament.
The tournament is typically held over two weekends during both the boys and girls seasons. The early round matches are played at Vineland and Millville during the first weekend, with the final matches taking place at Haddonfield on the second weekend.
Holman does the bulk of the organization for the tournament. A major responsibility is creating the draw for both singles and doubles as well as managing the schedule. This is a daunting task with about 100 singles players and 50 doubles teams participating annually.
“I used to read the ‘Courier-Post’ every day and I would see the scores and how all of the players are doing,” Holman said in explaining the seeding process. “You get that online now, but I make an effort to follow how all of the top players are doing. I look at previous year’s results, just to get a feel of who the top players should be. But there’s a little bit of guess work.”
At the end of each year, the South Jersey Tennis Coaches Association hosts a year-end banquet to honor all-stars, award winners and hand out scholarships to 12 seniors across the area. Holman started the organization to give tennis players the recognition he feels they deserve.
“He nails it down,” Bodary said of the awards and all-star teams at the end of the season. “He’s got anyone and everybody who should be considered.”
Holman continues to take charge of the end-of-the-season banquet, organizing the date, location and time as well as hosting the awards presentation.
“I would call him the godfather of South Jersey tennis, both on the boys and girls side,” deWolf said. “They want to make him proud. They’re his kids, his kids are South Jersey tennis.”
As much as Holman has done for Haddonfield and South Jersey tennis as a whole, he refuses to take much of the credit. Strike up a conversation with Holman about his 2,000-plus wins and the conversation will quickly go to the dedication of the many players, parents and assistant coaches who have been a part of the Haddonfield program.
“It’s a little bit like teaching an honors course,” Holman said. “You have people who really want to be there, who work to achieve their goals. When you’re working with people who are really motivated and determined to do well, the experience is very positive for everyone involved.”
“I think he’s in it for the kids,” Roddy said. “He doesn’t want the recognition that comes with it. He just wants us to go up there and actually enjoy playing tennis.”
Holman has remained humble even as he’s received countless honors over the years. Whenever he receives Coach of the Year at the SJTCA year-end banquet, Holman tends to gloss over the award.
“Even when he has the best team in South Jersey, he doesn’t want it,” Bodary said. “He wants to spread it around to other coaches.”
Holman is also downplaying one of his latest honors. Prior to the start of the girls tournament last fall, the SJTCA named the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships after Holman and presented him with a banner.
“I don’t think I’m going to use that (name),” Holman said, smiling. “It’s a very nice gesture, but the tournament is not about me. I don’t want the emphasis in the wrong place.”
While Holman may downplay the honors, others in the tennis community feel he’s more than deserving of it. Their hope is the positive qualities Holman brings to the tennis court will continue to resonate for generations to come.
“You’re playing for the team,” Lupinetti said of playing for Haddonfield, “but you also know that you’re playing for one of the greatest coaches ever.”