Kellie Harper leaves Tennessee: What comes next for the Lady Vols?


On April 8, 2019, Tennessee Kellie Harper was named as the new women’s basketball head coach. Her dream job was to return to her alma-mater, where she won 3 national championships in her playing days. Harper and Lady Vols’ fans were ecstatic.

Five years after Harper’s firing, Tennessee fired her because she failed to make it past Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee has won eight NCAA championships but hasn’t made it to the Final Four in 2008. Tennessee has fallen far behind South Carolina, which won the last two national championships, and LSU.

Harper was faced with the same challenge as her predecessor Holly Warlick. She realized that following the legendary coach Pat Summitt is even harder than she thought.

Harper’s last three opponents in the NCAA tournament -Louisville in 2022 and Virginia Tech in 2023 – advanced to the Final Four. For most other programs, a coach who finishes no lower than 4th in their conference over five-years and makes two Sweet 16 appearances as well as two NCAA second round appearances (there wasn’t an NCAA tournament in 2020 because of COVID-19), is likely to get a contract extension.

Harper has coached four programs to the NCAA Tournament in his 20 years of experience as a head football coach. His career record is 393-260.

The clock starts ticking as soon as the Lady Vols’ new head coach enters the office.

Tennessee is still an attractive destination for job seekers, despite its huge fan base and winning history. What went wrong for Harper and who will Lady Vols program turn to as a replacement?

Recruitment is the name of this game

Tennessee had some talent under Harper, but it was not enough. Particularly in comparison to South Carolina or LSU. This hurt Harper the most.

Harper took over months after Jordan HorstonThe No.2 recruit in the Class of 2019 according to ESPN HoopGurlz, had already committed to the Lady Vols under Warlick. Warlick already had the No.2 recruit in the Class 2019 according to ESPN HoopGurlz. Horston completed her career last year and was drafted by the WNBA ninth. Seattle Storm.

Tennessee has struggled since then to attract the most sought-after recruits, according to HoopGurlz rankings. The highest-ranked recruiting class was 57th for 2020, 43rd for 2021, none of the top hundred in 2023 and 35th place in 2024.

The Lady Vols signed 11 11 Justine Pissott Vanderbilt, but she transferred to Vanderbilt in 2022 after a season. Tennessee currently has the No. As of now, Tennessee has committed to No.

Recruiting in the NIL world is more challenging today than ever before. Tennessee, a program which used to be one of the top five recruiters every year, hasn’t been able compete in this race under Harper.

The Lady Vols were able to grab a star through the transfer portal. Rickea JacksonIt was not enough. It wasn’t enough. Harper’s replacement must make big gains in the recruiting department.

Tennessee’s harsh spotlight is a result of comparisons with the ‘Big Two” in the SEC

Summitt steered Tennessee to a dominant position in the SEC. The Lady Vols were challenged by other programs for short periods of time, but they could never keep up.

Summitt announced that she had early-onset-dementia of the Alzheimer’s type in 2011. She retired in 2012. Her longtime assistant Warlick who had been de-facto the head coach in 2011-12 officially took over.

Warlick’s personality was very different from that of Summitt (Warlick was a player at Tennessee between 1976 and 1980). Warlick had to deal with internal turmoil at Tennessee, as the men’s sports department merged with the women’s sports department. She also had to deal the grief of Summitt’s death and illness in 2016. Dawn Staley South Carolina was the top team in the league.

LSU has enjoyed success in the past. The program had fallen from its peak. Kim Mulkey, the coach who led Baylor to three championships, then took over at LSU.

Mulkey led LSU in her second year to the 2023 NCAA Championship.

Harper was forced to deal with comparisons between South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee, and every other good team in the country. It was too much.

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Cardoso, a Gamecocks’ player, drills a game-winning triple against Lady Vols

Kamilla cardoso hit her first ever collegiate 3-pointer at the last second of South Carolina’s 74-73 semi-final win to overcome UT’s vicious recovery.

Harper’s fate is unlikely to have changed after Tennessee’s 74–73 loss against South Carolina on March 9. The Lady Vols have come closer to defeating the Gamecocks than any other team this season. They allowed the game-winning shots to go through the center. Kamilla CardosoShe made her first 3-pointer in college.

Harper was not helped by the fact that the replay of Cardoso’s banked in 3 was played over and over again on television and on the internet. Tennessee looked confused defensively, as they did not guard the inbound passer of Cardoso… followed by Harper’s look of pure anguish at the sideline.

Is it time to move Tennessee beyond the “orange line”?

From Summitt, Warlick and Harper, Tennessee’s coaching history spans 50 years. All Tennessee natives. Warlick and Harper were both Summitt players. Lady Vols all the way.

Should Tennessee look elsewhere for its new head coach?

Kara Lawson is a Lady Vols alumni who led the team. Duke Blue Devils Many immediately thought of a possible replacement for the Sweet 16 in this season. But does she want the Summitt legacy, and expectations that come with it, especially now that she is building a new thing at Duke?

Would she be a good fit? Would it be better for Tennessee — even if it hurts longtime Lady Vols fans — to hire someone who has no connection to Lady Vols history?

Tennessee’s government must decide. By firing Harper, the administration has sent a clear signal about what they expect.

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