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Report: Tennessee will name Kellie Harper as next women’s basketball coach

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Another Tennessee alum makes her way back to Knoxville.

Kellie Jolly

According to multiple reports, Tennessee will name current Missouri State head coach and former Lady Volunteer Kellie Harper for the women’s basketball head coaching position.

Russell Smith of Fox Sports Knoxville broke the news first.

The spot came open on March 27th, when athletic director Phil Fulmer fired Holly Warlick after one of the worst seasons in recent history. The Lady Vols fell in the first round of the tournament, and failed to reach the 20-win mark for the first time since 1975. It was a disappointing end to a tenure that started out on a very promising note.

There were rumors that Louisville coach Jeff Walz was interested in the Tennessee job, but other rumors about a buyout meant that Tennessee balked at the opportunity. Instead, Fulmer opted for Harper, who has a familiarity with the program.

Harper played for Tennessee from 1995 to 1999 as the starting point guard on a 3-peat national champion team. She entered coaching in 2004, with her first stop being Western Carolina. She led the Catamounts to two NIT appearances and two NCAA tournament appearances in five years. She was then hired away by NC State, where she saw less success.

In four years with the Wolfpack, Harper and her team only made the NCAA tournament once. They finished at .500 in the 2012-2013 season, which prompted her firing.

Harper was then hired by Missouri State. She rediscovered her winning ways and just this past season led the Lady Bears to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. It was the furthest that any of her teams have gotten so far.

Fulmer (and by extension, Tennessee) are running a certain risk with Harper. While she is a former player and familiar with the expectations at Tennessee, she also does not have the resume that would jump off the page to a program of its caliber. It’s also a question of why Tennessee would go to the lower ranks to hire a coach, when its reputation and support label it as a top-5 destination in women’s college basketball.

The Rick Barnes saga has everyone’s attention at the moment. But the Harper hire is a big test for Fulmer’s tenure. If he gets this one wrong, Tennessee women’s basketball is going to suffer for years to come.