Dan Fleser: Kellie Harper Says She's Up For The Challenge Of Lady Vol Job

Monday, April 15, 2019 - by Dan Fleser
New Lady Vols' head coach Kellie Harper and family are introduced to the fans at the Orange and White game Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
New Lady Vols' head coach Kellie Harper and family are introduced to the fans at the Orange and White game Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
- photo by Dennis Norwood

KNOXVILLE – When Tennessee was looking for a new women’s basketball coach, several acquaintances of Kellie Harper either knew or assumed she was a prime candidate. Therefore, they felt compelled to text and were in choral unison with their messages: “You don’t have to say yes.”

“I think it was because they see it as a big challenge,” Harper said. “Obviously it’s a big challenge. But I’m completely confident.”

Harper, who had been coaching at Missouri State the past six seasons, was introduced as the Lady Vols’ new coach last week.

She’s replaced Holly Warlick, who was let go after seven seasons. Warlick was a UT assistant when Harper played here from 1995-99.

Harper’s life lately has been a whirlwind of activity, which is fine with her.

“I’m very comfortable,” she said. “I feel very busy but I feel very comfortable about the position and being able to succeed here.”

Here are Harper’s thoughts on subjects related to her new challenge:

Coaching philosophy

“It’s been a fluid thing,” she said. “We have our basic philosophy but then exactly what we’re doing, sometimes it’s fluid.”

Harper, who has 15 seasons of head coaching experience, said that her approach to offense differs from her UT experience. Defense and rebounding are not as different, other than perhaps the implementation.

“We practice rebounding daily; we work on it a lot,” she said. “At Tennessee, I don’t remember practicing it as much as it being emphasized.”

The North Carolina State experience

Harper was fired after four seasons as head coach of the Wolfpack and left with some hard-earned lessons about managing players and organizing a staff.

“Any time you get let go, I think it rattles you, it does,” she said. “The best thing for me then was going to Missouri State, where I had unbelievable support. I really understand now how much that meant.

“Also I feel like I’m in a better place for me personally to walk out there being confident with what I’m doing because I know what we do works.”

Evina Westbrook

UT’s point guard, who was critical of the previous coaching staff, has since put her name in the transfer portal. Harper was meeting with Westbrook on Monday to begin determining whether she will stay or go.

“I want to be respectful of her decision and I will be,” Harper said. “But for the sake of the team, I think it’s time we start making some decisions.”

Players and rosters

Harper has conducted one team workout and so far, so good regarding the players.

“Right now, I can’t be worried if that shot went in or did they do this exactly right,” she said. “I worry more about their effort and their attitude, their body language and how they’re being receptive. Because I can fix the other pieces.”

Regarding the roster, Harper said that she prefers having at least 13 players.

“I consistently play 10 or 11 players; I’ve been able to do that,” she said. “I think it’s good for camaraderie. I’d like to get to that point.”      

Filling a coaching staff

Harper said that her husband, Jon, will be an assistant on her staff. She also is bringing in Jennifer Sullivan, who spent last season at Ohio State after serving five seasons on Harper’s staff at Missouri State.

“She’s a superstar in the making,” Harper said of Sullivan.

The remaining coaching hire, though, will be the top assistant on Harper’s staff.

“I’m looking for someone who can give us great insight and credibility in the recruiting area,” she said. “They will have an ability, like the rest of my staff, to handle and talk to these players.”

About replacing Warlick

“I was pulling for Holly,” Harper said. “Two months ago, I was hoping that they would make a big run and win and everything would be very different now. It’s not that I didn’t want to be here. It’s not that. I wanted her to succeed. So I never did turn my sights to having this opportunity until (UT) called me after she was let go.

“I admire Holly. She’s such a good person. I love being around her. She impacted my life in a very positive way. She deserved the opportunity she got. It’s hard going through what she’s going through right now. My heart goes out to her. I hope she understands that she’s always welcome.”

* * *

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 


UTC Women Host Samford On Thursday, Saturday

Chattanooga FC Continues Partnership With hummel

Dan Fleser: The Fallout From UT's Demolition Monday


The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s basketball team will host Southern Conference-leading Samford Thursday and Saturday at The McKenzie Arena. The two teams will meet Thursday ... (click for more)

A historic first season, in world class gear. Chattanooga Football Club impressed supporters around the world with their flowing play, jaw dropping goals, and beautiful kits. The iconic chevrons ... (click for more)

Some day-after thoughts following demolition Monday, when Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt and nine others were fired for cause for alleged recruiting violations within the program. Athletic ... (click for more)



Sports

UTC Women Host Samford On Thursday, Saturday

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s basketball team will host Southern Conference-leading Samford Thursday and Saturday at The McKenzie Arena. The two teams will meet Thursday and Saturday this week in Chattanooga in a revamped Southern Conference schedule. The Mocs are 2-1 in Southern Conference action after opening with wins over ETSU and Furman. However, the ... (click for more)

Chattanooga FC Continues Partnership With hummel

A historic first season, in world class gear. Chattanooga Football Club impressed supporters around the world with their flowing play, jaw dropping goals, and beautiful kits. The iconic chevrons of Danish kit maker hummel will again return to Finley Stadium as both parties are pleased to announce that Chattanooga FC will again partner with hummel through the 2022-2023 season. ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Vehicle Collision Sparks 2-Alarm Commercial Fire On Lee Highway

A traffic accident caused a second alarm commercial fire Thursday morning in the 5800 block of Lee Highway. It happened at 2:47 a.m. when a garbage truck and car collided. They hit a light pole and it caused both vehicles to burst into flames. It sparked a chain reaction and vehicles on the lot of a nearby auto repair business caught fire and then the flames spread to the ... (click for more)

County Schools Will Stay On Virtual Learning Next Week Unless School Board Decides Differently On Thursday Night

Due to the current Phase Tracker level of 1.02 percent based on local COVID-19 trend data for the five-day average, all Hamilton County Schools will continue a remote learning schedule next week. Officials noted that Wednesday ’s active case count was at 3,096 cases versus the peak on Jan. 11 of 4,717 active cases. However, officials said, "The Hamilton County School Board ... (click for more)

Opinion

It's Time For Impact Fees

This letter is regarding the potential high density development on Snowhill Road in Ooltewah. Growth is good. But it needs to be responsible growth. It would be instructive to see studies by other communities who have already gone through this so we can understand just what is the taxpayer cost burden of these high density developments. Additional taxes to add infrastructure, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Vols Ain't Dead

Matt Hayes, a writer for the SaturdayDownSouth.com website, was blistering in his view of what has been allowed to happen to the once-mighty University of Tennessee football program just hours after coach Jeremy Pruitt went down in flames on Monday. “I’ve got some harsh words for those in power at Tennessee, something they don’t want to hear but better embrace. It’s not the 1990s ... (click for more)