KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s hiring of Kellie Harper as its new women’s basketball coach has paid off in a roundabout way for Dean Lockwood.
The former Lady Vols assistant coach, who served a combined 15 years on the UT staffs of Pat Summitt and then Holly Warlick, has been named an associate head coach at Michigan State. He is replacing Amaka Agugua-Hamilton on the staff of Spartans coach Suzy Merchant. Agugua-Hamilton left to follow Harper as head coach at Missouri State.
“It’s like dominos,” Lockwood said Wednesday afternoon.
“One pushes another over.
“Sometimes you don’t know when you’re doing someone a favor.”
The 59-year-old Lockwood was named Tennessee’s interim head coach when Warlick was fired. He knew his chances of being retained were unlikely after Harper was hired because her husband, Jon, typically has served on her staff. He and Jennifer Sullivan were named Lady Vols’ assistants last week.
Lockwood said last week that he harbored no bitterness over the circumstances or felt any awkwardness during the transition. He had met Kellie before, and he knew Jon from the recruiting circuit. He and Jon were sitting together, talking in a UT women’s basketball coach’s office earlier this month when a university marketing official walked by and offered a quizzical look. Lockwood thought: “Did you expect we’d be out in the hallway wrestling?”
The only wrestling regarding Lockwood’s situation was that he had all but accepted another coaching position when Merchant called. Michigan State men’s coach Tom Izzo, a coaching acquaintance of Lockwood’s, also called and urged him to accept Michigan State’s offer.
“For two days, I locked myself away,” Lockwood said.
A big factor in his decision was Michigan State’s proximity to his family, which resides in his hometown of Bay City, Mich. Lockwood’s mother, Lillian, is 92 years old.
“The only thing they ever said to me was ‘do what you have to do,’ ” Lockwood said. “Everything I’ve ever done is for me. One of the tipping points was this could be about her and my brother.”
Lockwood said that he’s known Merchant since 1992, when she was an assistant coach at Oakland University and Lockwood was the men’s head coach at Northwood University.
“I’m very comfortable with Suzy,’’ he said. “She’s very positive, upbeat, good energy. These are my impressions.”
The impression apparently is mutual, judging by Merchant’s comments in Michigan State’s announcement of Lockwood’s hiring.
“He is a person of high character, integrity and passion for the game of basketball,” she said. “He has spent the last 15 years coaching at one of the most storied women’s basketball programs in the country and worked for one of the best to ever coach our game in Pat Summitt.
“Beyond the back-to-back national championships (2007, 2008), Dean is a tremendous teacher of the game and he has developed dozens of WNBA draft picks. In addition, his past experience as a former head coach is something that is truly valuable.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org