HomeGrown: Holly Warlick, Lady Vols head coach

8:42 PM, May 15, 2013   |    comments
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After a season of highs and lows, Holly Warlick rebounded and finished her first year as Lady Vols head coach strong.

"Not too many people get the opportunity to come back and coach where they played, come back to coach where they grew up," says Holly Warlick.

With principle and passion, Holly's not only carrying on Pat Summit's legacy, but also her late father's. Sports were a key part of Holly's life growing up in West Knoxville. Whether it was track, softball or basketball, Holly's father, Bill, was her mentor.

"I just know how many lives he touched."

However, as a junior standout at Bearden High, the game of life handed her a tremendous loss. Her father passed away from a sudden stomach aneurism.

"You gotta survive. We downsized our home and I had to share a room with my mother."

They got through it together. Holly graduated and went to the University of Tennessee- Knoxville on a track scholarship.

"It was to me a God given talent that I was quick and fast."

But her first love was basketball, so she walked on, continuing to wear her dad's favorite number- 22.

"I was just on the front end of the beginning of the Lady Vols. It was Pat's second year of coaching. I was a point guard, so I was supposed to be a leader. I took in every word she gave me."

She even took in the criticism.

"I would leave the gym thinking that woman is crazy; I don't even know if I'm going to come back. And, I'd be the first one back the next day."

Pat pulled the very best out of Holly. The three-time All American finished her college career with multiple Final Four visits, school records, and a retired jersey- hanging over head.

"I had a chance to play in front of my hometown. It was huge."

After a year of playing pro ball, she began her coaching career at Virginia Tech, then Nebraska. While there, she got the call from Pat.

"She said, 'Would you be interested in coaching and coming back to East Tennessee?' And I said, 'I can be there in 15 hours!'"

That was 1985. Holly's been with the Lady Vols ever since. And, they've experienced highlight after highlight from 27 NCAA tournaments to eight national championships. Holly was courted for head coaching jobs several times.

"I had one. I thought I was gone."

With Pat's blessing, Holly was heading to South Carolina.

"It was difficult. We both cried a little bit."

But the job fell through.

"I wondered, do I need to leave to come back. And, it worked out."

Of course, not the way Holly wanted.

"To see this lady and this powerful woman and her going through this diagnosis... it's tough. It's really tough."

Pat decided it was time to step down and asked Holly to, once again, step up.

Holly followed Pat's example and immediately hired people she trusted. She started recruiting the next day. And then the season started-- a loss at University of Tennessee Chattanooga and another pep talk from Pat.

"She came up to me and goes, 'I lost my first game. You're going to be fine.'"

Pat was right. The Lady Vols took home an SEC Title and an Elite 8 appearance. And, Holly took home hardware of her own- Division 1 Rookie Coach of the Year, SEC Women's Coach of the Year and TN Sports Writers Women's Coach of the Year.

"I have so many people come up and say, 'Your dad would've been proud of you.'"

He'd be just as proud of her efforts off the court to raise money and awareness for Breast Cancer, especially with her sister, Marion's, recent battle.

"If I can use my position to raise awareness and help raise money to find a cure, I'm gonna do it."

She may not have the stare, but Holly can certainly get players attention.

"I can whistle and the players turn around and know immediately that it's me."

Holly Warlick, HomeGrown in Tennessee.

"I wouldn't live anywhere else and when I retire I'm gonna stay right here."

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