On Saturday March 23, the Lady Vols entered the University of Maryland looking to prove a point and save their head coach’s job. As an 11 seed, the Lady Vols kept their streak of 38 years making the tournament alive, but just barely.
The Lady Vols could make up for their failures and bad records this season by making a run in the tournament; however, despite making a second-half comeback, they fell to UCLA, and three days later, Holly Warlick was released from her job.
It didn’t start and end with the Lady Vols though. On Sunday, March 24, the men’s team blew a 25-point lead in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Iowa. The Vols managed to take the game to overtime — where they were victorious — but hardly looking like the dominant team they were in January.
That was very easily shown last Thursday when the Vols took on Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen. The Vols got down 18 points to the Boilermakers in the second half before coming back and actually having a two-point lead with two seconds left before losing in overtime. Yes, the Vols were impressive to come back from that deficit, and it took a monstrous performance from Ryan Cline to hold off the Vols, but the Boilermakers outplayed them for 35 minutes of the 45 played.
While the Lady Vols' season was indeed a disappointment in terms of the legacy and history that they have had over the team’s existence, the men’s team was the opposite, as the team made just their eighth Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history. And, while both seasons ended with failures, those failures will make each program stronger in the long run.
New regime gives Lady Vols a fresh start
While obviously no one wanted to see Warlick fail as the Lady Vols’ head coach, the time had come for her to step down or be released of her job after three straight years of not making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
To be fair to Warlick, she was put in a no-win situation having to replace Pat Summitt. No one could repeat what Summitt did in her time as head coach; but, at the same time, fans weren’t going to be satisfied unless the next coach was able to repeat what Summitt did.
Warlick was a good fit for the “transition coach” between Summitt and whoever will replace Warlick as the next head coach. Warlick was loved by Lady Vols fans, so there was no bad blood between her and the fan base. She did the best she could in the situation she was put in and gave fans a few bright moments to enjoy.
Now though, a new coach is going to be brought in by Phillip Fulmer, and that expectation of immediate success and Final-Four trips is not necessarily going to be there like it was when Warlick was promoted to head coach. Fans have now seen failure; so, at this point, getting back to being relevant and consistently ranked is what they are looking for in their new head coach.
That puts less pressure on whoever is to take over and, in turn, brings a more positive culture to the program and fan base. Instead of fighting for their job for years like Warlick did, the new head coach and the Lady Vols team are now free of so much pressure and can play loose, knowing that winning a few games in the tournament will be a successful season, and not having to make the Final Four for fans to be satisfied.
Heartbreak gives Vols motivation, shows seniors success
When the final second ticked off the clock on Thursday night, Admiral Schofield, Lucas Campbell, Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson’s Tennessee career came to an end.
The loss, while devastating, shows how far the program has come through these four. When they arrived, along with Rick Barnes, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen would have been a huge success. The fact that a lot of fans see it as a disappointment shows just how far along they have brought the program.
Despite people thinking the season was a disappointment though, it was in fact not one. Anytime a Tennessee team makes a Sweet Sixteen, it is a successful season. Yes, this team could have and probably should have gone farther in the tournament, but they also beat Kentucky twice, made the SEC tournament finals, beat #1 Gonzaga and was ranked No. 1 for four weeks. Hardly a disappointing season.
Now though, the Vols are forced to regroup. While last year’s loss to Loyola-Chicago gave them a lot of motivation, seeing how far they could go this year should give them even more motivation. And, with the loss still fresh in their minds, might give Grant Williams and Jordan Bone more motivation to stay for their senior year.
The Vols’ recruiting class isn’t too shabby either, with Josiah James coming in. And, after redshirting this year and losing around 40 pounds, the Vols will have DJ Burns available, who some say is the best player on the team around the hoop.
So, as the team returns to offseason conditioning with the overtime loss to Purdue still very much in their minds, know that the motivation is there and, if the Vols keep Williams and Bone, they can be even better next year.
Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.