John Adams: UT should do what's best for Pat Summitt and program

SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and Glory Johnson hug during the awards ceremony after the Lady Vols' win over LSU in the championship game of SEC women's basketball tournament in Nashville.

Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2012

SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and Glory Johnson hug during the awards ceremony after the Lady Vols' win over LSU in the championship game of SEC women's basketball tournament in Nashville.

Tournament basketball always evokes a sense of urgency. That sense is heightened for the Tennessee women's program as it prepares for next week's NCAA basketball tournament.

The usual questions related to seeding and matchups still apply. But there's also the new, overriding question: What comes next?

The possible answer looms larger than even a Final Four finish.

You know the program won't continue as is. It would be too much to ask of coach Pat Summitt, who is battling early onset dementia, and her staff to go through another season like this one. Summitt's role has been reduced drastically by the disease; the staff's responsibilities have increased accordingly.

Tennessee can offer a coach big money, great tradition and a huge fan base. But it also will be asking someone to follow in the footsteps of the most renowned coach in the history of the sport. And that will narrow the field.

The most qualified coach with UT ties is fifth-year Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, a former graduate assistant on Summitt's staff. He hasn't just put together a couple of good teams at Kentucky. He has built the Wildcats into a nationally ranked program.

His third team won 28 games and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. His current team won the SEC regular-season championship. His last three teams have averaged 26 victories per season.

In fact, he has done so well, it's questionable whether he would leave — especially since he keeps saying how much he loves his situation. He's already well paid and is in the process of negotiating an even better contract.

LSU's Nikki Caldwell would be the next most qualified among coaches with UT ties. The Oak Ridge native would be a popular choice among fans in that she's a former UT player and assistant coach.

Caldwell hasn't won a conference title or advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament, but she averaged 24 victories in her three seasons as UCLA's head coach. In her first season at LSU, she has won 22 games and is headed for her third NCAA tournament in four years.

Yet you have to wonder if she would leave a program after just one year. Although most coaches wouldn't have a problem with that, I doubt Caldwell would be that selfish.

You also have to consider her friendship with Lady Vols associate head coach Holly Warlick, who already has expressed an interest in succeeding Summitt. When asked earlier this season about the possibility of returning to UT as head coach, Caldwell stressed that UT already has a great coach in Warlick.

Given the extraordinary circumstances of the situation, it still makes the most sense to promote Warlick to head coach after this season. But if athletic director Dave Hart prefers to hire a current head coach, then he shouldn't limit his search to coaches with UT ties. Instead, he should try to hire the best coach in the country.

Connecticut's Geno Auriemma is out for obvious reasons. Tara VanDerveer isn't leaving Stanford.

Kim Mulkey probably wouldn't leave Baylor, where she is making more than $1 million a year, has won a national championship and has a chance to win one this season and next with All-American center Brittney Griner. Still, she would be worth a call.

Once you get past Auriemma, VanDerveer and Mulkey, who has a résumé remotely worthy of the Tennessee job?

There's more to consider than a résumé, though. By naming Warlick head coach and keeping the staff intact, it would enable UT to keep Summitt involved in some capacity as long as her health would allow.Tennessee couldn't ask a new coach and staff to make room for Summitt. Coaching in her shadow would be difficult enough without having her at practice or in the office next door.

Warlick and this staff are comfortable with Summitt. And she's comfortable with a staff that has supported her during the most difficult season of her career.

UT will have to make a head-coaching change. But it can keep the staff and coach together.

Summitt deserves that much.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 27

drgoofy#432342 writes:

Don't forget about Carolyn Peck...TN native, former grad assistant, National Championship Resume, name recognition... awesome for recruiting!

jgl#233810 writes:

Short-sighted not to include Kellie Harper among the possibilities. I don't think she'd take the job, but she's certainly someone with ties to the program that would deserve a strong look.

huntined#565710 writes:

in response to drgoofy#432342:

Don't forget about Carolyn Peck...TN native, former grad assistant, National Championship Resume, name recognition... awesome for recruiting!

Good choice she would be a strong recruiter for sure.

CoverOrange writes:

Whoever it is will suffer in the shadow of Summitt. Easiest thing to do would be let Warlick have first crack at it and see how she fares. Being a career assistant doesn't bode well but maybe she's been the power behind the throne.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jgl#233810:

Short-sighted not to include Kellie Harper among the possibilities. I don't think she'd take the job, but she's certainly someone with ties to the program that would deserve a strong look.

I think the world of Kellie, but her post-season record is no more impressive that Nikki's at this point. Her NC State team had a huge win over Duke in the ACC tournament, but then lost by 20 in their next game and won't even be in the NCAAs this year, nor have they made it any other year since she has been there. If the next coach isn't Holly, then the powers-that-be probably should look outside the UT family tree for the next coach.

packie56 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I think the world of Kellie, but her post-season record is no more impressive that Nikki's at this point. Her NC State team had a huge win over Duke in the ACC tournament, but then lost by 20 in their next game and won't even be in the NCAAs this year, nor have they made it any other year since she has been there. If the next coach isn't Holly, then the powers-that-be probably should look outside the UT family tree for the next coach.

Actually, NC State played in the NCAA's in Kellie's first year as head coach (2010). Was there in Minneapolis when her team lost to Caldwell's UCLA in the frst round. Before that, I believe NC State had made a run and lost in the finals of the ACC tourney. She knows how to get a team ready for March. With more talent like UT gets, she'd do fine.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to packie56:

Actually, NC State played in the NCAA's in Kellie's first year as head coach (2010). Was there in Minneapolis when her team lost to Caldwell's UCLA in the frst round. Before that, I believe NC State had made a run and lost in the finals of the ACC tourney. She knows how to get a team ready for March. With more talent like UT gets, she'd do fine.

I like Kellie and wouldn't kick if she turned out to be the pick, but if Hart is looking for someone with a proven record of post-season success, Kellie might not be the first choice. NC State doesn't have nearly UT's record of championships--who does?--but it has always been a strong program in the ACC, so I would have to say that they aren't quite back to THEIR historic level of success, let alone UT's.

feathersax writes:

in response to aspenvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Watched him prissing about the SEC women's tournament in his mom-jeans with that ever present smirk on his face. Egads!

civilianvol_formerly_marinevol writes:

Can't explain it, and I think I'm pretty liberal in most areas, but I have a huge sexist bias when it comes to women's college basketball: I don't like having men coaching women's basketball. Maybe Geno did it to me. Anyway, I hope the Kentucky coach won't be considered.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to civilianvol_formerly_marinevol:

Can't explain it, and I think I'm pretty liberal in most areas, but I have a huge sexist bias when it comes to women's college basketball: I don't like having men coaching women's basketball. Maybe Geno did it to me. Anyway, I hope the Kentucky coach won't be considered.

I'm also a vet and can be either liberal or conservative depending on the issue, but I have always said that when the FIRST woman is hired as a coach, head or top assistant, in a major-college MEN'S program, I would have no problem with men coaching women. Until then, let the college jobs coaching women go to women and let the men who want to coach but can't get jobs coaching college men go coach boys' HS teams or something.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Seems Adams revives this topic every week or two.
Tennessee and Pat will eventually do what is best for the program. Adams will be back in another week with this same subject.

gp410ecvols writes:

Not sure Holly is the answer. How did it go when Bill Guthridge, Dean Smith's long time assistant, took over at Carolina??

Southland writes:

whatever the decision is the lady Vols will have an incredibly hard time even coming close to maintaining what they have been used to. It is going to be tough.

AllforTenn writes:

The News Sentinel has no such problem. Whoever succeeds John Adams will have no shoes to fill at all. And it is time.

vut5686#1405392 writes:

Adams, as usual, adds nothing to a difficult situation. We are talking about replacing Pat Summitt...and who out there comes close? Given that none of the two or three (that we would want) would probably come to UT, naming one of the current staff HC makes about as much sense as anything else. Hart, by now, and others within the UT family...including Pat, herself, should have an insight as to how Holly....or someone else...relates to the players, manages games and recruits, that is far more insightful than any of us can offer. I happen to think a new HC should be named soon after this season ends. That said, having Pat as part of the program...as long as she wishes..could only be a positive. And, we must be prepared for this: who is likely to match her success...both as a coach....and her success with the LVs? No one.

martic#220796 writes:

in response to jgl#233810:

Short-sighted not to include Kellie Harper among the possibilities. I don't think she'd take the job, but she's certainly someone with ties to the program that would deserve a strong look.

What has she done at NC state?

HoneyBadger writes:

in response to drgoofy#432342:

Don't forget about Carolyn Peck...TN native, former grad assistant, National Championship Resume, name recognition... awesome for recruiting!

While I'm sure Ms Peck is a fine person, she has no credible coaching body of work. The National Championship at Purdue was inherited directly from Nell Fortner. Her tenure at Florida was disappointing and ended in her being fired. During her five seasons at Florida, the Gators posted a 72–75 record. The 2006–07 season was a disaster, with a 14-game losing streak and finishing 9–22. Gator fans felt that she made little, if any, effort to generate community interest in the program.

During Peck’s three seasons as the WNBA coach of the Orlando Miracle, she posted an unimpressive record of 44-52.

BruisedOrange writes:

Superficially, as a fan, I confess Holly Warlick doesn't excite me as the choice.

But when I tried to think about it objectively, her name went to the top of the list, with Kentucky's Mitchell second.

First of all, WE DON'T KNOW what Holly would be like as the LV head coach, because all we've seen this year is Holly executing what Pat (and the coaching committee) have agreed on. WE DON'T KNOW what things Holly has seen over the years that she would change IF it was her call. But remember... it hasn't been "her call" yet.

Secondly, Holly has had contact with every player the Vols consider to be potential recruits, for probably the next 4 years. Whatever the reasons we've missed out on those few, special players--the Moore's, the Griner's--the past few seasons, Holly maintains our continuity with all those rising All-Americans like have filled our squad for decades.

Finally, Holly is experienced enough to retain the best of Pat's coaching philosophy, and young enough to recognize anything that might no longer be as effective as it once was--whether in basketball, communication, or recruiting.

We have no idea whether Holly (or the rest of the staff) think the program needs massive or only minor improvements. But it's certain that no outsider has a better perspective, or better understands the fine details and subsequent fallout that making such changes would bring.

The FAN in me wants the next coaching hire to be an exciting, turn-the-world-on-its-ear announcement. The FAN in me wants the next coach to have strong ties to CPS and our history. The FAN in me wants the next hire to be a great story that will sweep away the terrible sadness that we know will consume us when Pat eventually steps down and begins that journey into the sunset of her life.

But by the following January, our excitement will be determined by the won/lost record. Our enthusiasm for any hire will be winnowed by the tweets and soundbites of 16-year old recruits.

And that sadness will still linger, for as long as we hold memories that our dear Pat can no longer.

packie56 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I like Kellie and wouldn't kick if she turned out to be the pick, but if Hart is looking for someone with a proven record of post-season success, Kellie might not be the first choice. NC State doesn't have nearly UT's record of championships--who does?--but it has always been a strong program in the ACC, so I would have to say that they aren't quite back to THEIR historic level of success, let alone UT's.

She wouldn't be my first choice either and I don't think she's UT's either right now, but if UT needs to "settle" she would do a better than good job. My main point was to correct the inaccuracy regarding NCAA appearances in your initial comment.

packie56 writes:

in response to martic#220796:

What has she done at NC state?

See my other comments re: Kellie. She has only been at NC State for three years. It was a program reeling after Yow's illness and death. Her appointment over the then-interum coach was a bit controversial. She competes with Duke and NC for the same in-state recruits. Takes a little time to reload. Even Geno and Pat took years to win that first championship when the competition wasn't so deep.

bkwats2003#237114 writes:

Nicki Caldwell just announced that she's pregnant. If she doesn't get married, I don't want her at UT. What kind of example is she setting for young African-American women to have a baby out of wedlock? There's too much of that already.

volistic writes:

in response to bkwats2003#237114:

Nicki Caldwell just announced that she's pregnant. If she doesn't get married, I don't want her at UT. What kind of example is she setting for young African-American women to have a baby out of wedlock? There's too much of that already.

First, she was very pregnant at the SEC championship game, and had her baby the next day.
Second, you're kidding, right?

eVOLved writes:

Pack your bags, Coach Summitt. John Adams has hired your replacement.

phhome writes:

First of all John Adams does nothing but look to find stories to get UT fans to not pay attention to what we should be paying attention to and that is this tournament, most stuff he writes is lame and he's a joke. I'm totally sick of actually seeing his name beside a column because it does nothing but bring UT down anyway possible. I'd like to think that Mickie DeMoss is still a great coach, hopefully she wouldn't have a nervous breakdown, I like her, what about Al Brown, wasn't he around during the 3 peat years?

volistic writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I'm also a vet and can be either liberal or conservative depending on the issue, but I have always said that when the FIRST woman is hired as a coach, head or top assistant, in a major-college MEN'S program, I would have no problem with men coaching women. Until then, let the college jobs coaching women go to women and let the men who want to coach but can't get jobs coaching college men go coach boys' HS teams or something.

I agree. No matter who we hire, I want it to be a woman coach for women's basketball.

GONAVY writes:

in response to drgoofy#432342:

Don't forget about Carolyn Peck...TN native, former grad assistant, National Championship Resume, name recognition... awesome for recruiting!

Won NC at Purdue 1998; fired as HC at Florida 2007. Nix the thought. Plus all the homers would scream at the fact she played and was All SEC at Vanderbilt.

SummittsCourt writes:

Dave Hart should make one call and that is to Dawn Staley period.

She turned Temple into a contender and they are nothing now. She is doing the same thing at SC and they were nothing before here arrival. Imagine with the talent at UT what she can do!

Talk about exposure/recruiting/pedigree

Former multiple WNBA all-star, multiple Olympic champion and recruits like nobody's business. Plus, she want mind being in the shadow of an iconic legend. She has work ethics similar to Pat's. She can be a players coach when necessary and can get after players when they need it.

Warlick, Caldwell, Harper are Tennessee names, but none have had the success that Staley has. If as fans, we want the success to continue we need not get sentimental with Tennessee names and go after a coach who will elevate the program back into NCAA championship caliber from the get go.

She will get the big name 5 star players to come to Tennessee. She will put together a steller coaching staff and she will be there for the long haul.

Peck has had success but she has been out of the game too long and she didn't fare that well at Florida either.

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