Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer had to look beyond a personal relationship to make a business decision this week, and he did what he felt was best for the university.
Fulmer confirmed through a statement that Tennessee is parting ways with Holly Warlick as the head coach of the Lady Vols basketball team. Warlick had served as the Lady Vols’ head coach for seven seasons, but she was an integral part of the Lady Vol program long before she was named head coach.
Warlick grew up in Knoxville and played high school ball at Bearden. She came to Tennessee for college and had a historic playing career while playing under Pat Summitt. Warlick was a three-time All-American point guard for the Lady Vols in the 1980s. Upon finishing her playing career, she was the first player in program history to have her jersey retired, and that jersey still hangs in the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters. Warlick also played on the 1980 US Olympic basketball team and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001.
After her playing career ended, she coached as an assistant for Virginia Tech and Nebraska. But she returned back to her home university in 1985 and served as an assistant unde Summitt. She was an assistant to Summitt through 2012 and took over the Lady Vols program after Summitt had to step down due to her diagnosis of early onset dementia.
Fulmer has been at Tennessee for most of his life just like Warlick, and he developed a personal relationship with her outside of coaching. That’s what made the decision to part ways with her a tough one, though the results on the court showed it was the right move.
“Holly and I met this afternoon, and I informed her of the decision to change leadership within the program,” Fulmer said in a statement. “Holly has dedicated most of her adult life to the University of Tennessee and the Lady Vols program. She loves Tennessee, and Tennessee needs to always love her back. She was front and center as this program developed into the model for women’s intercollegiate excellence.
“While it certainly stings to make this decision, I am charged with doing what I believe is best for this storied program. It’s important to all of us that Lady Vols basketball maintains its status among the elite.”
Warlick had success at first as the Lady Vols’ head coach, reaching the Elite Eight in three of her first four years as head coach. She achieved an 86-20 overall record in her first three years as head coach, and she helped the Lady Vols win either the regular season or SEC Tournament title in each of those three years.
Her fourth Lady Vols’ team struggled in the regular season, but they rallied together in the postseason and made it to the Elite Eight. That would be the last time she found success in the NCAA Tournament, though.
Warlick’s last few seasons as head coach of the Lady Vols saw the program suffer many historic “firsts” in a bad way. The Lady Vols finished 8-8 in SEC play in 2016, ending a three decade streak of UT earning above a .500 record in conference play. That team was saved by their Elite Eight run, though. The 2016-17 team, however, was not. That team’s 20 wins that season were the fewest in Lady Vols’ history in over 40 years. That team, and the one after them, failed to get to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. That was a first since 2009 and only the second and third time ever.
This season, though, saw the Lady Vols dip to new lows.
The Lady Vols went 19-13 this season, 7-9 in conference play, and finished tied for eighth in the SEC after being predicted to finish third by the media and fourth by the coaches. Tennessee’s 89-77 loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday marked just the second time in the history of the tournament that the Lady Vols failed to win a single game in the tournament.
This past season marked the first time in school history the Lady Vols failed to be at least .500 in conference play, and it marked the first time since Pat Summitt’s second season as head coach in 1975-76 that they failed to win at least 20 games in a season. The 11-seed the Lady Vols earned in the NCAA Tournament was the worst seeding in school history. This season also saw a Vanderbilt team that finished 2-14 in SEC play earn the program’s first ever win Knoxville when they defeated the Lady Vols in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Warlick finishes her tenure as the Lady Vols’ head coach with a 172-67 record, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, three Elite Eight appearances, four Sweet Sixteen appearances, two regular season SEC titles, and one SEC Tournament title.