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.