For the first time since 1974, Tennessee will open a basketball season with a new head coach on the bench for the Lady Vols.
Pat Summitt, who led Tennessee to eight national titles and compiled an overall record of 1,098-208, called Inside Tennessee with the news on Wednesday afternoon.
“I am not going anywhere. They are going to have to put up with me anyway,” Summitt said.
Those remarks were delivered with a laugh, an indication that Summitt was at peace with the decision to retire but still remain close to the program.
“I think it’s important for the players,” Summitt said. “Some of them came here because of me and I just want them to know that I am not going anywhere.
“I will be there for them if they want to come in my office and talk. I am still going to be at Tennessee.”
Holly Warlick, who has been at Summitt’s side since 1985, will take over the program. Warlick, a Knoxville native and Lady Vol point guard from 1976-80, handled dual roles last season when Summitt had to curtail her daily activities because of a diagnosis last summer of early onset dementia.
Summitt opted to return to coach for the 2011-12 season with her assistants absorbing additional daily duties, none more so than Warlick. The team made it to the Elite Eight and fell to eventual national champion Baylor.
Summitt endorsed the plan going forward to have Warlick succeed her at Tennessee.
“I am excited for her,” Summitt said. “I think I can help her and obviously she is going to be there for me. We are going to keep on keeping on.”
Summitt will remain with the program on a daily basis and will still be part of practice planning and meetings with players. Tennessee has consulted with the NCAA to determine precisely the parameters of Summitt’s duties.
“We haven’t outlined everything,” Summitt said. “I know that these players are going to need us. We lost five seniors. I want to do all I can to help Holly.
“We talked today. She is going to need me, and I am going to need her. I am trying to get some great players in here.”
Warlick said, via a statement from Tennessee, “I’m very thankful for all Pat Summitt has done to prepare me for this opportunity. 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.
"I’d like to thank Dave Hart, Chancellor Cheek, and the University for having confidence in me to lead the Lady Vol program, and we will work as hard as we possibly can with the goal of hanging more banners in Thompson-Boling Arena.”
Hart said in a statement: "It is extremely difficult to adequately express what Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, the sport of basketball, and the growth of women’s athletics nationally.
"She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting. Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt. I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role. She is an inspiration to everyone.
“Holly Warlick has earned the opportunity to be the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee and to lead the Lady Vol program she has embraced as a player and a coach. I watched Holly grow tremendously as a coach throughout this past season. Under unique circumstances, the job she did away from the glare of the lights and crowds was as impressive as the job she did during game action.
|Long-time assistant Holly Warlick transitions into head coaching duties next season.|
"At this time in our historic program, which Pat Summitt built from scratch, Holly Warlick, the former player and longtime assistant coach, is deserving of the head coaching position. Her mentor will be available for insight and advice, but this is Holly’s team now.”
The decision for Summitt developed over the course of the season. She knew the illness had diminished her in some ways in term of the energy and daily commitment it takes to be the head of Lady Vols basketball, but she also knew that she still had plenty to offer to the players.
“I felt like after my diagnosis I was doing less and less,” Summitt said. “I was just trying to figure out where my next place was going to be and rather than stay on as a head coach, Holly and I talked. She is going to need me, and I am going to need her so I feel really good about it.”
Recruiting has entered a critical cycle as April marks the beginning of showcase events for top talent in high school. One such event, the long-held Boo Williams, will be in Virginia this weekend, and Tennessee has major targets from the class of 2013 who are participating.
Summitt knew she needed to bring clarity to the coaching situation at Tennessee because of recruiting.
“Absolutely,” Summitt said. “We’ll get out there and do what we have to do with recruiting.”
Summitt moving into an emeritus role means Tennessee now has two openings on the staff since Mickie DeMoss left earlier this month of the Indiana Fever of the WNBA.
Warlick will be able to choose the new assistant coaches with input from Summitt, who won’t sit on the bench during games. Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood remains on the staff, and he is a critical connection to several 2013 recruiting targets.
The date of April 18, 2012, will go down as a momentous one in Lady Vols history because Summitt, the likes of which the game will never see again – a coach who started her career at the age of 22 while teaching classes at Tennessee and working on her master’s degree – made official what had been anticipated.
“I am good,” Summitt said. “I knew that this was going to be something that I would have to make a decision on, and I am happy about it.
“Holly has been doing an awful lot. She has really stepped up. She knows I am going to be there for her. We’re going to keep on going.
“I’ll be all over the place. Everything that they’re going to let me do, I am going to do.”
Pat Summitt speaks with her assistant coaches during a timeout in her final game on the bench at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville as Tennessee's head coach back on Feb. 26.
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