In the past couple of college basketball seasons I have vehemently defended Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick. U.T. fans have been after her head for quite a while now and that may be justified. Now, I still love Holly as a person and perhaps in another situation, she could achieve more success as a coach. But at Tennessee, replacing the legendary Pat Summitt was simply a chore that was too big.
No one could have stepped in to replace Coach Summitt.....no one. As I have written many times before replacing a legend is perhaps the toughest job there is in sports.
When my friend Bob Kesling replaced the great John Ward in 1999 as the "Voice of the Vols" he came under intense scrutiny almost immediately. Now, twenty years later, the constant criticism is still there though not as prominent as it once was. Bob will readily admit he is no John Ward but he has been a true professional in every way.
Holly Warlick's lack of success is measured by what Coach Summitt achieved in her 38 years as head coach at Tennessee and that is simply not fair. When you measure her success against other college coaches she suddenly becomes more successful. 172 wins and 66 losses for a winning percentage of 72%. Most other coaches would love to have won 72% of their games. She has taken three different teams to the NCAA Elite Eight in her seven seasons directing the Lady Vols. Coach Summitt on the other hand put together a record of 1,098 wins and just 208 losses for a winning percentage of 84%. She built the Lady Vols' program from scratch and took them to unprecedented heights.
Some Tennessee fans have been posting names of who they would like to have as the new head coach as the team sits and waits for its NCAA Tournament seeding, if there is one. That is a tremendous distraction for players and coaches alike. Current athletic director Phillip Fulmer has a very tough decision to make in the next few weeks. Does he give Holly another season to right the ship? Or does he pull the trigger and make a change? Considering the fact that he extended her contract last fall, it is unlikely he will make a change right now. That could leave it up to Holly to make that decision. She loves Tennessee and has been part of the "family" in Knoxville for a very long time. Maybe she should just resign and take the pressure off of coach Fulmer. She will be taken care of there is no doubt about that unless she wants to coach elsewhere.
She has done an admirable job trying to replace the greatest coach who ever lived. Always remember that.
* * *
Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org