Randy Smith: A Divided Big Orange Nation

  • Wednesday, April 3, 2024
  • Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Whenever there is a coaching change on Rocky Top there are always a few fans who disagree with the change. (Except when Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt were dismissed.) In the cases of Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer there were a lot of fans on both sides of the aisle. It's the same way now after Lady Vols' basketball coach Kellie Jolly Harper was fired on Monday...April Fools' Day. Harper spent five years at her alma mater as head coach putting together an overall record of 102-58.
She took two teams to the Sweet 16 and two more to the tournament's second round. Those numbers would equate to a contract extension for most any other coach, but not at Tennessee.

For more than 50 years, Tennessee has had just three head coaches...Pat Summitt, Holly Warlick and Kellie Harper. Warlick and Harper each played for Coach Summitt who set the standard for coaching women's college basketball, winning eight NCAA championships and more than a thousand games. With the dismissal of Harper U.T. has sent a clear message to the rest of the country. They mean business.

The Big Orange Nation is also divided about who to hire. Some want a woman, some want a man. Some want a person with ties to Tennessee while others want an outsider. Among the names mentioned are former Lady Vol Kara Lawson, N.C. Sate coach Wes Moore, who formally coached at UTC and Louisville coach Jeff Walz. That's a woman with ties to Tennessee, a man with ties to Tennessee and a man with no ties to Tennessee. There are many more people being talked about and all you need to do to find out who is go to social media.

Wes Moore would be a great choice but he's 66 years old and is taking his Wolf Pack to the Final Four. I doubt he will ever leave N.C. State. As for Kara Lawson, she too would be a great choice; in fact she could be the leading candidate. She's been at Duke putting together a record of 68-33 and she's taken her last two teams to the NCAA Tournament, with the 2024 squad dancing to the Sweet 16. Athletic Director Danny White is conducting a nationwide search for Harper's replacement and that replacement should be announced within the next few days.

When Kellie Harper was hired five years ago, Phillip Fulmer was in charge of the athletic department. I wrote a column encouraging him to hire Kellie because she had a good track record and was a U.T. alum. I still think at the time she was the best choice. It just didn't work out. So...this time around I won't encourage Danny White to hire anybody. I will encourage UTC Athletic Director Mark Wharton to take a long look at Kellie Harper before he hires a replacement for Shawn Poppie. She still needs to coach and Chattanooga would be a perfect place.

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com.

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