There are times when we are judged by our results; indisputable proof exhibiting our level of competency at a given task. Over time, due to repetition and concentrated effort, one tends to improve their results. That principle hasn’t applied to Holly Warlick in her six seasons as the head basketball coach of the Lady Vols. She hasn’t regressed either; I would call it successful stagnation. But, is this assessment fair? Are we judging Coach Warlick based on her results or on the expectations set forth by her predecessor?
Coach Pat Summit established a winning legacy at Tennessee that has been difficult, at best, to continue. Coach Warlick has managed to win three-fourths of games coached while leading the SEC in overall win percentage in her six years on the job. Her biggest knock isn’t the fact that she hasn’t won a national title during her tenure, it’s that she hasn’t even made a Final Four appearance.
Many in the Lady Vols’ fan base don’t view these results as acceptable due to her having generated at least a top 15 recruiting class in her six years leading the program. Tennessee has never finished the season out of the top 25 and have finished in the top 10 twice. These are results many programs would happily live with, but the Lady Vols aren’t just any team and these results are widely viewed as evidence for Coach Warlick’s inability to bring a national championship to Knoxville.
In all sports, long-term success is difficult to sustain and the Lady Vols are a model of how a collegiate sports program should operate. They are one of a few powerhouse programs in women’s college basketball and having not won a national championship in the past ten seasons doesn’t change that status. It must be noted, however, that the SEC has become a stronger force in women’s college basketball and many other non-traditional basketball schools are competing at a consistently high-level.
This isn’t an excuse for Coach Warlick, but I believe that if Coach Summit were still at the helm, she would be going through some of the same struggles that we are seeing Coach Warlick currently deal with. The game is faster, the athletes bigger, and it’s played with a focus on outside shooting over post play. This is distinctly different from the game the Lady Vols dominated in the 1990s and 2000s.
Coaches across the country have had to adapt their principles for today’s game and its physically evolved players. Coach Warlick is following suit by building her current roster with highly-skilled guards who can penetrate and find open shooters on the perimeter. She is utilizing the size of her guards and athleticism of her forwards to shorten the court for the opposing offense; resulting in a pressure, man-to-man style defense.
These strategy modifications are long overdue and the reluctance for change has hindered the success of Coach Warlick’s recent teams. She is making the correct adjustments and her consecutive top four recruiting classes exhibit this new strategy. These positive changes should garner more widespread understanding and support from Lady Vol fans regarding Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer’s desire to sign Coach Warlick to a contract extension.
The Lady Vols are on the cusp of returning to the program we all remember from a decade ago. Forcing Coach Warlick to lead her team this season while in the last year of her contract could affect decision making on all levels. Coaches don’t operate as efficiently in these circumstances and it could lead to more win-now thinking instead of long-term program building.
I am not blinded by loyalty enough to say that Coach Warlick is the only coach that could lead the Lady Vols back to perennial title contention. There are many known, great coaches in the sport and many more undiscovered in the shadows, but Coach Warlick is the best fit for the Lady Vols and the University of Tennessee shares my sentiments.
Going forward, let’s judge Coach Warlick based on her results and not what we expect of her based on what her predecessor accomplished. She is not Coach Summit and these are not the Lady Vols of years past. And that’s not a bad thing.
The past isn’t a crutch unless you lean on it.