Being a former point guard, Holly Warlick appreciates the value of a good assist.
Tennessee's new women's basketball coach said as much in a UT release on Wednesday, paying tribute to her mentor, Pat Summitt. She stepped down after 38 seasons to become a head coach emeritus.
"I'm very thankful for all Pat Summitt has done to prepare me for this opportunity,'' Warlick said. "She is my coach, mentor and great friend, and I am honored with the opportunity to continue and add to the great tradition of this program."
Warlick was unavailable for further comment. She will participate in a press conference today along with Summitt and other UT officials.
Warlick, a Knoxville native, was a standout guard for UT 1976-80 and was the first UT player — men's or women's — to have their jersey retired. She will be making her head coaching debut after 27 seasons as a UT assistant. Before that, she was an assistant for two seasons apiece at Nebraska and Virginia Tech.
Last season provided some challenging on-the-job for Warlick's promotion. With Summitt battling early onset dementia Alzheimer's type, Warlick took on a level of responsibility that befit a head coach.
"I think this past year was good for Holly to be in that spot to help prepare for this day,'' said former UT assistant Mickie DeMoss, who offered her own homespun take on the difference between being an assistant and a head coach:
"You can tell somebody what a strawberry actually tastes like but until you actually taste it, you don't know."
As the season played out, Summitt felt like she was on the receiving end of an assist for Warlick.
"She's done a great job from my diagnosis on,'' Summitt said. "I want
to support her."
Warlick will need all the support that she can get. DeMoss left earlier this month to become an assistant with the WNBA's Indiana Fever. Wednesday's transition created a second opening with spring recruiting looming for a program that currently has just six players on campus.
Based on its lofty standards, the program is at a low ebb, having failed to reach a Final Four the past four seasons.
In the meantime, DeMoss felt certain that Wednesday was a bittersweet day for Warlick, The opportunity of lifetime has been afforded her by someone she either played for or coached with for 31 seasons.
"Once she moves on from the emotional side of this,'' DeMoss said, "she's going to have to get her arms around everything."