Dan Fleser: Some Big Names To Consider For The New Lady Vols Basketball Coach

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - by Dan Fleser

Whenever someone told me that Holly Warlick needs to go as Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach, I always responded by asking “OK, who would you replace her with?”

The answers have covered the gamut. Everyone from Connecticut women’s coach Geno Auriemma to former Lady Vols point guard Kara Lawson has been mentioned.

My lingering impression has been that more thought had been given to Warlick’s removal than her replacement.

UT athletic director Phillip Fulmer best not follow that trend. The decision to part ways with Warlick, which was announced Wednesday afternoon, is only as a good as his choice to succeed her. He should know. He was forced out as UT’s football coach in 2008. The decision was made worse by the subsequent hires. Tennessee is on its fourth coach since then and is 9-15 the past two seasons.

Fulmer’s search probably won’t be as expansive as the armchair ADs of my world. But he needs to keep in mind his stated expectations for a program that achieved everything short of a Final Four on Warlick’s watch.

My turn to throw out some names for possible consideration:

Worth a Call: Maryland’s Brenda Frese, Louisville’s Jeff Walz, Baylor’s Kim Mulkey and Oregon State’s Scott Rueck are among the upper echelon of the sport’s coaching ranks. For various reasons, they might at least answer the phone.

The group collectively has achieved everything from national championships to Final Four appearances and national coaching honors. But any of them would test UT’s financial commitment.

According to a story in the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday, Walz’s current annual salary is $1.475 million and his buyout is the same.  

Out of left field: Becky Hammon is blazing an impressive trail into the NBA as an assistant coach with  San Antonio. She’s in her fourth year with the Spurs and coached their summer league team in 2015 and 2016, winning a championship in ‘15.

The former guard was named one of the 20 most influential players of the WNBA’s first 20 years.

Again, why not call? Tennessee’s tradition might draw some interest on her part.

Tennessee connections: Kellie Harper’s stature has been enhanced by coaching No. 11 seed Missouri State to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. She’s 118-78 in six seasons at the school.

The former Lady Vols point guard, who remains popular with the fan base, is one of three coaches to lead three different schools to the NCAA tournament. But in her lone tour of duty with a Power 5 conference school, she was fired after four seasons at North Carolina State.

The record of LSU’s Nikki Fargas, a former Tennessee guard, doesn’t match Warlick’s. Former graduate assistant Matthew Mitchell seems entrenched at Kentucky after 13 years as the Wildcats’ coach.

Former guard Nikki McCray-Penson is directing an impressive turnaround at Old Dominion. In her second season, the Monarchs improved by 13 victories, winning 21 and making the WNIT. She served nine years on Dawn Staley’s staff at South Carolina but has been a head coach for just two seasons.

Solid credentials: UCLA’s Cori Close, Princeton’s Courtney Banghart, Central Florida’s Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, Rice’s Tina Langley, Drake’s Jennie Baranczyk and Gonzaga’s Lisa Fortier.

Among this group, Close has coached UCLA to four consecutive Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight last season.

 Banghart was the Naismith national coach of the year in 2015, leading the Tigers to 31 victories. She has 254 victories in 12 seasons and has taken a program that had never qualified for the NCAA tournament to eight appearances in the past 10 years.

Langley’s coaching career spans 20 years, including seven seasons on Maryland’s staff. She was Frese’s associate head coach for five years.

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com 

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