BLOOMINGTON – After nearly 17 years, Indiana has a new winningest coach. J.R. Holmes captured his 807th victory Thursday night to eclipse long-time Loogootee coach Jack Butcher’s previous record of 806.
In many ways, Bloomington South’s 63-24 victory over Northview was like the hundreds that came before. Holmes and his staff prepared the same and after the final buzzer sounded, Holmes embraced Northview coach Michael Byrum before leading his team into the locker room.
The difference came in the thousands of people who stuck around well after the game was over. Seemingly everyone in the basketball community, there or not, wanted to congratulate Holmes on the historic achievement.
“It’s special,” Holmes said between the handshakes and hugs he continued to receive more than an hour after the final buzzer sounded. “It’s unbelievable that all of them would come out. They got to come out here and it worked out perfect that this was able to be at home, this last game, and we were able to win it.
“It makes it really special.”
Sitting isolated on the west bleachers of Bloomington South’s gymnasium, Holmes watched on as fans began filing into the 3,000-person gym during the junior varsity game. That’s when his daughter, Meredith, surprised him one day after sending him a FaceTime from Colorado, telling him she wasn’t going make it.
Holmes and Butcher spoke before the game, reminiscing on the times they coached against each other when Holmes was at Mitchell.
“To accomplish what he has accomplished, it took a lot of hard work, so (I was here) as an appreciation of one of my coaching colleagues,” Butcher said. “When you coach against another coach for a long period of time, you become appreciative of your fellow coaches because you know how much work you put into it and you know how much work they put into it.
“I thought it would eventually be broken and I guess I’m just happy to be around to see it.”
Combined, the pair have 1,613 wins and counting. In 45 years, Butcher earned all his victories at Loogootee before retiring in 2002. At that time, he had more than 80 wins than any other coach in history.
Several players from Holmes first team at Tunnelton in 1970-71 made the trip, donning red lettermen jackets. That team went 18-5, losing to Bedford 54-52 in the sectional championship game during Holmes’ inaugural season. Back when he was 23 with a five-year coaching plan.
“My brother has a saying, ‘Everybody’s got to be somewhere,’” Mark Bennett, a player on the 1970-71 team, said. “Well, I tell you what, I’m glad I was at Tunnelton when he started his coaching career there.”
Holmes picked up his first 30 wins in two seasons at Tunnelton, before spending the next 10 at Mitchell, where he won 113 games and fell just short of another sectional championship, losing to Bloomington South 53-50 in 1978.
It wasn’t until 1985, 15 years into his career, when Holmes picked up his first sectional title. In 36 years at Bloomington South, Holmes won 19 sectional titles, two state championships and led the Panthers to 20-plus win seasons each of the previous five years.
During the postgame celebration, Holmes took the mic to give his appreciation to Sam Alford, former New Castle coach and father of 1983 IndyStar Mr. Basketball Steve Alford.
“I’d like to thank Sam Alford, personally, for not taking the job at Bloomington South when they offered it to him first.”
Everyone who stayed for the game stuck around to collectively watch Holmes receive congratulatory messages from the likes Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Purdue coach Matt Painter, Indiana coach Archie Miller, Steve Alford and more in a special video presentation.
Players from all three of Holmes coaching stints were there. Butler graduate and member of Holmes’ undefeated 2009 state championship squad Erik Fromm said he remembers how the Bloomington community rallied around the team during that run.
“The community has always stayed supportive of coach,” Fromm said. “He’s an easy guy to get along with and he’s someone you want to know. Kudos to (Holmes) on the wins and also the type of guy he is.”
On senior night, the Panthers jumped out to a 19-4 lead over the Knights in the first quarter. Junior Carson Gettle helped cut Northview’s deficit to nine by halftime after hitting a trio of first-half 3s.
Bloomington South (21-3) dominated coming out of the locker room, outscoring Northview 33-3 for the win. Junior guard Anthony Leal led all scorers with 26 points off 10 baskets followed by seniors Grayson Rolen and Adam Graham who had 13 and nine, respectively.
For now, Holmes stands alone atop Indiana’s all-time coaches. Not far behind him is Lawrence North coach Jack Keefer who has 794 wins as of Thursday night.
While it’s unclear how many more wins Holmes will have before retiring, Jack Butcher summed up what the record meant for two of the greatest coaches in Indiana basketball history.
“There have been a lot of numbers, a lot of years mentioned here this evening,” Butcher said, standing feet away from Holmes at midcourt in front of the thousands who remained. “And I think we’d both say, we’d do it all again.”
IHSAA COACHING WINS LIST
1. J.R. Holmes* — 807 (48 years)
2. Jack Butcher — 806 (45 years)
3. Jack Keefer* — 794 (46 years)
4. Bill Patrick — 765 (48 years)
5. Pat Rady — 761 (51 years)