Tennessee made right decision to hire Holly Warlick, and her departure is right call, too
She just didn't get credit for it.
Pat Summitt announced before the 2011-12 season that she was suffering from early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Nonetheless, she elected to coach one more season.
But in that last season, she was no longer the legendary coach who led Tennessee to eight national championships. The disease wouldn't let her be that coach.
As Summitt dealt with the disease and continued to coach, assistant coach Warlick had to handle many of the head-coaching responsibilities. That was difficult enough. But the difficulty was exacerbated by Summitt's condition.
She wasn't just Warlick's boss and former coach. She was her longtime friend. And Warlick had to watch Summitt's daily struggle while taking on a coaching challenge unlike any she had ever had.
Dave Hart, UT's athletics director at the time, greatly appreciated how Warlick managed the situation and team. When Summitt announced her retirement after the season, he chose Warlick as Summitt's replacement. He made the right decision.
At that point, Summitt hadn't lost her awareness. On some days, she even wondered if she should continue coaching.
UT named her head coach emeritus and gave her a one-year contract, It also made Warlick — her assistant and friend — the head coach. That made for the smoothest of transitions.
Seven years later, it was time for another transition. Warlick is out as Tennessee's coach.
That couldn't have been an easy decision for UT athletics director Phillip Fulmer. Warlick was an All-America point guard and a longtime assistant coach at Tennessee. And she won plenty of games as a head coach.
She won 86 games in her first three seasons. She went to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in three of her first four seasons. In her seven seasons she averaged 24.6 victories.
But the program has been getting worse, not better, on her watch.
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In 2018, Oregon State ended Tennessee 57-game, home-court winning streak in the NCAA Tournament. This season, UT lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game to UCLA. With a 19-13 record, the Lady Vols failed to win 20 games for the first time in 42 years.
They also became the first team in school history to lose to Vanderbilt on UT's home court. And Vanderbilt was the worst team in the SEC.
Tennessee frequently failed to pass the eye test.
Sometimes, the Lady Vols didn't play hard. Other times, they didn't play smart. They sometimes overcame those shortcomings with talent, but not always.
Most fans didn't expect the program to reach the heights it did under Summitt. But they expected more than what Warlick's teams gave them.
A passionate fan base wanted to see a passionate team. Too often, it didn't. Instead, it saw teams chock full of former high school All-Americans who failed to reach their potential.
Understandably, many Lady Vols fans became apathetic. Their apathy was reflected in the declining attendance.
So a change had to be made. Tennessee fans can only hope it will be a change for the better.
The program still has tremendous potential. And the best way to reach that potential is to hire one of the best coaches in the country.
Summitt's program deserves that.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.