By Frank Gale
This was a sad week for the Big Orange Nation when legendary Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt announced she was resigning her position. The prelude to the ending was like nothing that I can ever remember with her waning moments as the coach of the Lady Vols played out publicly over the past season.
There has never been a women’s basketball coach like Pat Summitt, and there will never be another. The fans that followed the Lady Vols over the decades can feel privileged to have shared all the special moments that Coach Summitt provided. The eight national championships are just a few of the special accomplishments this lady provided for the University of Tennessee while she guided the program.
Now it will be up to Holly Warlick to guide the program. While there is no one quite like Pat, certainly the coach that sat by her side through thick and thin should have a competitive advantage going forward. It can’t be any more difficult than last season when she was placed in the position of guiding the program for Pat on game nights. Getting to the doorsteps of the Final Four while winning an SEC Tournament along the way is a pretty good resume for the coach that will succeed a legend.
Lady Vol basketball fans are fortunate to have a person take over the program that believes in the “Pat” way of doing things. Time will tell if the graduation rate continues or if there will be championship banners to be hung in the future. Suffice it to say that the bar was set extremely high by Pat Summitt.
Holly has the nucleus of a good team returning and the best fan base in the country to support her. Hopefully, Pat will use her new title of coach emeritus to help with recruiting and make appearances at practices when her health allows it. Lady Vol basketball and Coach Pat Summitt will always be linked together, just like General Robert Neyland and Vol football.
While the Lady Vols get ready to adjust to life without Coach Summitt at the head of the program, the football Vols will make their first public appearance with their own revamped coaching staff tomorrow. The annual Orange–White Game will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium. The free event promises to be one of the more competitive scrimmages in years. New defensive coach Sal Sunseri has his defense ready to make a statement against one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC. Should make for an interesting afternoon.
The coaching landscape has certainly changed on Rocky Top over the past few years. Derek Dooley entering his third season all of a sudden has become one of the more “senior” coaches on campus. His quest to guide the program into the future begins tomorrow as the Vols prepare to have a needed break-out season in 2012. Go Vols and Lady Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)