By Alex Norman
On Wednesday, March 27, the University of Tennessee announced that Holly Warlick was relieved of her duties as Lady Vols basketball coach.
“Holly and I met this afternoon, and I informed her of the decision to change leadership within the program,” said Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer in a statement released by UT’s Sports Information Department. “Holly has dedicated most of her adult life to the University of Tennessee and the Lady Vols program. She loves Tennessee, and Tennessee needs to always love her back. She was front and center as this program developed into the model for women’s intercollegiate excellence. While it certainly stings to make this decision, I am charged with doing what I believe is best for this storied program. It’s important to all of us that Lady Vols basketball maintains its status among the elite.”
Warlick went 172-67 in her seven years as the Lady Vols coach, including two SEC regular season titles, one SEC tournament title, and three Elite 8 appearances. But the Lady Vols failed to advance to a Final Four under Warlick, and the past three seasons they grossly underachieved despite a roster filled with four-star and five-star talent.
This was a move that Fulmer had to make. The Lady Vols basketball program was in a slump, and it didn’t look like Warlick had any idea how to turn things around.
That doesn’t make this any easier.
Warlick was tasked with replacing the legendary Pat Summitt, winner of 1098 games and eight national championships. Summitt was Warlick’s coach, her mentor, her friend… Stepping into the shoes of one of the greatest coaches of all time was never going to be easy. But for those reasons and others, it was destined to be considered a disappointment without trips to the Final Four.
Multiple Final Fours…
Remember, Warlick wasn’t only a Tennessee assistant coach for 27 seasons. She was a local, playing under Summitt from 1976-1980 after graduating from Bearden High School. She was an All-American, and made the roster for the 1980 US Olympic team, but never represented her country in Moscow because President Jimmy Carter boycotted those games (but that’s another story for another day).
Warlick’s number is retired in the rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena. As a player or assistant coach, Warlick was a part of each of the 19 trips the Lady Vols made to the Final Four.
And Warlick was a huge reason why the train kept rolling along with the Lady Vols program when in 2011 Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed with dementia. While Summitt was officially the head coach for the 2011-2012 season, Warlick handled many of the daily responsibilities.
Pat Summitt’s coaching tree has many branches, but looking back, there’s no one else that could have taken over as head coach immediately after Summitt than Warlick.
For seven seasons, Warlick has been an outstanding representative not only of the UT athletics department, but of the University itself.
Yes, it is a bottom line business, and it is unacceptable for a program like the Lady Vols to struggle. The fan base, the facilities, the history… Tennessee should be in the mix for a national title more often than not.
Warlick has spent almost all of her adult life on the UT campus.
No, she didn’t win enough.
That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t deserve our respect, and our thanks…