KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Holly Warlick has her work cut out for her as Tennessee’s new women’s basketball coach.
She is replacing Pat Summitt, which has been compared to following Dean Smith at North Carolina, John Wooden at UCLA or Bear Bryant at Alabama.
Warlick, however, says she’s simply taking over a program she’s very familiar with for her close friend.
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And just like Summitt, Warlick welcomes a challenge.
“This is what I do,” said Warlick, Tennessee’s first new head coach since Summitt took over in 1974. “I’m a basketball coach, and I’ve been it all my life. I’ve learned from the best, so I don’t see it as I’m following a legend. I’m following a mentor who’s prepared me for this opportunity and it happens to be at the University of Tennessee.
“Very honored, privileged, and I’m ready to go to work.”
Warlick has her hands full. Not only did Summitt set a seemingly unreachable standard with 1,098 wins and eight national titles in her 38 seasons, five seniors are gone from last year’s team. So Warlick’s success will depend on convincing great players to keep coming to Tennessee.
The Lady Vols have been waiting since the spring signing period opened April 10 on junior college prospects Uju Ugoka and Wilka Montout, while high school junior Kaela Davis of Buford, Ga., announced in February she was looking at other college after being committed to playing at Tennessee for several years.
Warlick said the uncertainty over Summitt’s future was a little bit of a concern. But she and assistant Dean Lockwood immediately got on the phones after Wednesday’s announcement, and she said the feedback they’ve received has been good.
Summitt sticking around as head coach emeritus helps as well.
“It’s been really a positive response for us on the recruiting side,” said Warlick, who also has to quickly hire two new assistants.
Lost in the season-long saga over what Summitt would do following her announcement Aug. 23 of her diagnosis with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, was Warlick’s role with the team. She took the lead during games, holding the clipboard in the huddles, and talked with reporters afterward.
The Lady Vols went 27-9 and won a 16th Southeastern Conference tournament title.
A Knoxville native, Warlick was one of Summitt’s earliest recruits and became a three-time All-American between 1976 and 1980 when Tennessee went 118-23. She was the first Tennessee athlete to have her jersey retired at the end of her career.
Warlick went into coaching and started as an assistant at Virginia Tech between 1981 and 1983 before moving to Nebraska for two seasons. She returned home and joined Summitt on the bench where she spent the past 27 years.
Warlick was on hand for all eight national titles along with 949 of Summitt’s 1,098 victories and is a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Warlick also received a vote of confidence from some of the marquee coaches in the women’s game.
“I am thrilled for Holly as this opportunity is well deserved and Pat will be a huge asset to her moving forward,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw expects no change out of Tennessee with Warlick in charge.
“We know that the Lady Vol program will remain strong and vibrant with Holly Warlick as head coach,” McGraw said.
Summit presented Warlick with her whistle during Thursday’s news conference. About the only thing missing from practices will be Summitt’s icy glare, something Warlick says she doesn’t have. But a couple of Lady Vols see little difference between the two on the court.
“She yells just like Pat does,” departing senior Glory Johnson said. “She yells just as loud as Pat does. She’s a lot more goofy off the floor. But on the floor, they have the same mentality.
“They’re about winning and being successful and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Freshman Cierra Burdick came to Tennessee expecting to play for Summitt. But the small forward from Charlotte, N.C., has confidence Warlick will make the Lady Vols better in her own way.
“Her jersey is hanging in the rafters,” Burdick said. “I think no other person but Holly is best prepared for this position. She clearly has huge shoes to fill. Those shoes may never be filled, but I think Holly out of anyone in the country I have full confidence she can get this job done, and she will get this job done.”
Warlick won’t be making the $1.5 million Summitt earned, but she got a hefty pay hike to $485,000 in a deal signed through 2016. It’s a vast improvement over the $250 a month Summitt was offered to coach the Lady Vols in 1974.
But Warlick’s biggest advantage may wind up being the recruiting heft that only Summitt can provide in her new role as head coach emeritus.
“She’s going to watch practice and be involved in on-campus recruiting, which is huge for us,” Warlick said. “She built this program, is the tradition of the Lady Vols, and we’re going to use her in every way possible to help us continue that tradition.”