MARYVILLE — For the third straight year, Tennessee has a new coach making the rounds with annual Big Orange Caravan.
Newly promoted women's basketball coach Holly Warlick joined football coach Derek Dooley and men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin as well as athletic director Dave Hart for this year's first caravan appearance Monday night.
The caravan has seven stops this month, including Memphis, Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla.
In past years, the caravan visited more cities with the coaches rotating at each stop. Hart and all three coaches are scheduled to be at each location this year.
Though Warlick says she hadn't been prepped on what to expect on the tour, Pat Summitt's longtime assistant assured the crowd she's ready to handle her new role with the Lady Volunteers.
"I've been here so long that everybody associates Pat and myself with the University of Tennessee so that's been a huge positive," Warlick said.
"It's exciting. I understand the responsibilities are a little bit more and a little bit different, but I think what Pat has allowed me to do throughout my career, last year was a great experience for me, so my expectations are still the same. They haven't changed. We want to compete for championships, and I understand that we've got to get kids in here to make it happen."
Warlick's first squad will consist mostly of freshmen and sophomores after Tennessee lost five seniors from a team that lost in a regional final to eventual national champion Baylor. Still, it'll be the same Lady Vols program, which Hart called "the best women's basketball program in the country," because Warlick said all she knows is Tennessee's aggressive, up-tempo style that emphasizes defense and rebounding.
"When you have a teacher how Pat Summitt was and allowed us to do certain things, we've kind of stepped in and it keeps flowing," Warlick said. "That's how it should be. She's allowed you to do what you're good at. She's taught me so much that I should be able to step and the program should continue because that's the kind of program Pat built."
Unlike Warlick, Martin was a bit of an unknown to Tennessee fans last year when he was a part of the Big Orange Caravan for the first time. After guiding the men's program to a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference and a second-round appearance in the NIT in his first season, Martin said he can focus more on the men's program and its future rather than himself.
"I think last year it was, 'Who is this guy? How do you pronounce his name? What does he say? What's his style? What's his game plan?'" Martin said. "You'd just lost a coach (Bruce Pearl) that did some good things and had some success for six-plus years so it was one of those deals where it was 'Let's figure this guy out.' I think now it's a case of, 'What's the expectations for this team? How is Trae Golden doing? How is Jarnell Stokes doing? And Jeronne Maymon?' Questions like that I'll have a better grasp for answering them because I have answers for those guys."
Entering his third year with an 11-14 record, Tennessee fans still are looking for answers from Dooley.
"All the anchors that have been weighing our program down the past four or five years, they're all gone," Dooley said. "I saw a team (this spring) that is more experienced than they've been since I've been here. We're deeper than we've been since I've been here. The team chemistry is better than it's been since I've been here, and the commitment level to being good is as good as I've seen it.
"I want to tell you guys I can't thank you enough for the support that the fans have given the last two years. It's been tough, but you know what? Stay with it. The worst is behind us. We've got the results coming."