Warlick’s UT challenge: meeting Summitt’s standard

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.

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.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker