"The tradition continues ... Welcome Holly Warlick."
Warlick literally spoke to that tradition in addressing a reception Thursday night at the Knoxville Convention Center. The event was staged in her honor. The gathering of university officials, local dignitaries and boosters didn't need an introduction to someone who grew up in Knoxville and has been a Lady Vols assistant for 27 years.
So Warlick used the forum to introduce her staff right down to the office secretaries. She also laid out her vision for the program, which sounded like business as usual. She addressed not only those in attendance but Lady Vols fans in general by saying, "We sell our fan base to our recruits."
The presentation — both in content and delivery — had a Summitt-like quality to it. Small wonder then that Warlick paid her respects during the address with the following tribute: "I worked for a superstar. Pat has done nothing but teach me the right things to do."
The tutorial apparently included the importance of working a room. Warlick already has demonstrated an appreciation for public relations. This spring, she made every stop on the Big Orange Caravan. She also spoke at a United Way fundraiser in Oak Ridge earlier this month.
"That's how Pat built the program here,'' Warlick said after her talk. "I saw the importance of her getting out, everyone seeing her, selling the program. I've always thought that's important.
"... She taught me to do that. So I'm going to continue to do it. To me, it's part of the job. I understand that, have no problem with it. It's not a difficult part of the job for me."
If anything, this part of the job fits her outgoing personality. Lady Vols assistant coach Dean Lockwood has traveled frequently with Warlick and watched her interact with the public.
"She's one of those people, I've heard people say it about Pat, you'd never know who she was by how she relates to you,'' Lockwood said. "Whether you own the building or clean the building, you're the same."
The mood inside the building on Thursday didn't fully account for other sentiments swirling within the fan base. The combination of Summitt stepping down after 38 years to become the program's head coach emeritus and the consolidation of the men's and women's athletic departments has fostered a sense of apprehension. Richard Fraser, who has followed the team since the 1980s, has detected this feeling in conversation with other fans.
"What they're worried about is that the Lady Vol brand is going to disappear,'' Fraser said, "And, of course, (athletics director) Dave Hart has said that's not going to happen. We don't have any real reason to think it's going to happen, but I think there's still apprehension."
Warlick said that she hasn't come face to face yet with this discomfort. Lockwood thinks that Warlick might help ease the situation through her face time with the fans.
"I think this stuff is very important because it conveys an air of confidence, a sense of certainty about her leadership," Lockwood said. "From a fan's standpoint and from the public's, it's important to see that, to see how comfortable she is in her own skin in this role."