Jeff Walz: Tennessee rumors are a 'slap' in the face to current coach

With speculation swirling about a potential move to the University of Tennessee, Louisville women's basketball coach Jeff Walz declined to address his interest in the position Wednesday morning on the grounds that the job wasn't even open.

Tennessee was mulling the future of their current coach, Holly Warlick. Stadium's Jeff Goodman reported later Wednesday that Warlick was out.

"I think it is a slap in Holly's face," Walz told the Courier Journal, adding that coaching rumors pop up every year and that he's focused on his team's Sweet 16 matchup Friday against Oregon State.

Louisville coach Jeff Walz

A Tennessee athletics spokesman declined to comment Wednesday morning before the report of the firing, saying the school is "not in the practice of commenting on 'rumors.'"

Walz added in a press conference: "I'm kinda holding out for the Lakers."

Those responses came one day after Gene Henley, a Volunteers beat writer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, wrote in a tweet that "Louisville is prepared to lose" Walz to the Volunteers after the season, according to a source.

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That was followed by a statement from Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra, who said the school is "focused on Oregon State on Friday night." The Cardinals play the Beavers at 9:30 p.m. in Albany, New York.

"We’re incredibly proud of Jeff’s accomplishments, including last year’s Final Four appearance. Following last season we rewarded Jeff with a contract extension that we anticipate him fulfilling,” Tyra said.

Walz, who is in his 12th season with the Cardinals, has led Louisville to a 330-99 record, along with three Final Fours, and two national runner-up finishes. This year marks his sixth Sweet 16 in seven years.

"I know all these rumors always get started in March," Walz said. "Every single year. It never changed and it's not going to change. This job, that job. The (Tennessee) job's not open, OK? So I'm not even going to worry about that. We're going to continue to focus on the (Louisville) basketball team."

The Walz-Tennessee rumors have resurfaced so frequently that U of L forward Sam Fuehring told him she thought it was the fourth straight year she'd heard them.

"It's part of it," Walz said. "I told her it's her fault. If we were bad and lost a bunch, no one would be interested or even throw my name in conversations."

Until Warlick's status is clarified, the speculation will likely continue. A former Volunteers player and assistant, Warlick led her alma mater to a 19-13 record this year. That included a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament that further muddied her future with the school.

Warlick is under contract through the 2021-2022 season after signing an extension a year ago, according to figures obtained by the USA TODAY Network. She earns $690,000 annually and is due a buyout of about $710,000 if she's fired.

Meanwhile, Walz in June received a three-year extension through 2025, with a pay bump to $1.475 million annual base salary. His salary increases to $1.525 million after the 2020-21 season and to $1.575 million after the 2023-24 season. His buyout is $1.475 million. 

In other news, the Cardinals did lose a coach on Wednesday. Longtime assistant Samantha Williams was picked as the new head coach at Eastern Kentucky. She'll be introduced at a reception on April 3, just two days after the Elite 8 and two days before the Final Four.

Justin Sayers: 502-582-4252;; Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: