The year was 1975, and after losing his first 10 games as a college basketball coach, recent Biola graduate Dave Holmquist was beginning to wonder if things would ever get better.
“I thought, ‘Gee, are we ever going to win a game?’” he remembers. “When we finally won our first game, I felt like we had won the national championship.”
What he didn’t know then is just how familiar the feeling would become — or that he had just begun to embark on one of the most successful careers in college basketball history.
This season — his 31st as coach of the Biola Eagles and his 34th overall — Holmquist joined the ranks of elite coaches who have 800 or more career victories, a mark he reached on Dec. 29. Among the 15 other men’s college basketball coaches to reach the rare milestone are such legends as Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith.
With his career record of 816–300 at the season’s end, Holmquist now stands alone as the winningest college basketball coach in California history, having surpassed Eddie Sutton of the University of San Francisco, who had 804.
In his office at the close of the regular season, Holmquist reflected on the success as one might expect from a true team player: by passing the credit to others.
“Coaching matters, but you really have to have good players to win,” he said. “It’s just been a very fulfilling feeling to have done it together with a number of people that I feel really close to.”
Holmquist’s career started at Fresno Pacific University, where he spent three seasons building up a struggling program and earned his first 36 victories as a coach. When he took over at Biola in 1978, he inherited a program that had never won more than 25 games in a season or advanced to a national tournament.
That quickly changed. In the years since, the Eagles have averaged 25 wins a season and finished with a losing record only once. They’ve advanced to the national tournament 19 times, including the 1983-84 season, when they won the National Christian College Athletic Association championship.
Over that time, Holmquist said his approach to coaching has remained much the same. He still focuses heavily on defense and shot selection, and practices are still tough, though much less grueling than they were at the beginning, he said. If anything, the biggest change has been a greater emphasis on making the game meaningful for his players.
“Nobody looks back when they are older and wishes that they had wasted more time or laid around the dorm more,” Holmquist said. “A lot of people look back and wish that they had worked harder on the sport they love, so I try to talk about those kinds of things. You only get to play college basketball for a brief window of time and then it’s over.”
On Jan. 29, many of Holmquist’s former students returned to Biola to celebrate his latest milestone. Following a victory over Cal Baptist, the community honored him with a plaque, tributes and a basketball signed by current and former players, including United States Sen. John Thune, who played for Holmquist during a few of the coach’s first seasons at Biola.
“What an awesome, awesome accomplishment,” Thune said in a video tribute. “I wish you great success on the next 800, because I expect you to be around for a long time.”
Indeed, as one of the youngest coaches to ever reach 800 wins, further milestones are definitely within sight. But Holmquist says he doesn’t have any long-term goals. He just wants to keep playing one game at a time.
“I’ve spent the past 34 years just trying to get ready for the next game and not thinking too much beyond it,” he said. “As far as how long I’ll coach? As long as I still enjoy it.”