Impatient fans await next Vols coach

ALBANY, N.Y. — UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma said Thursday he knows whoever replaces Holly Warlick at Tennessee will face the difficulty of very high expectations immediately in attempting to live up to the success of former coach Pat Summitt.

Warlick was relieved of her duties Wednesday after seven seasons.

“I think if they make the right decision and the right person gets in that job, it won’t take long for them to be back where they were,” Auriemma said of the Lady Vols, an eight-time national championship program that’s been eliminated in the NCAA early rounds the last three years. “I don’t think that’s going to be very difficult at all.

“But their fan base is a lot like ours. They’re impatient. They want everything right now. There’s not going to be a lot of patience for whoever the next person is, so they’re going to have to be great right away.”

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UConn and Tennessee had one of the great rivalries in women’s basketball from 1995-2007, including six meetings in the Women’s Final Four. But Summitt canceled the series after their 2007 regular-season meeting. The schools are finally set to meet again with a two-game series that begins next season.

The date of the first game, at Connecticut, is Jan. 23, 2020, which will be during “We Back Pat” week. The second game will be at Tennessee in 2021.

“I think depending on who the coach is, we may play them 10 more times, or we may not play them at all,” Auriemma said. “I’m anxious to see who the coach is because it may only be two years, maybe one.

He added jokingly: “I may try to get out of it next year.”

In all seriousness, Auriemma said he felt badly for Warlick, a longtime Tennessee assistant coach who stepped into the head-coaching role in 2012 after Summitt stepped aside because of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

“It wasn’t easy from Day One to do that job,” Auriemma said. “And then, you know, you add the pressures of what’s expected at a place like Tennessee. And the fact that everybody else has gotten better, and it’s much more difficult to recruit the same players that were being recruited back then. And you add it all up, and it’s not easy.

“So Holly was in a very difficult position from the minute she took the job. I feel terrible for her. Every school is entitled to have their own coach, obviously, and Tennessee is entitled to have whoever they want as their coach. But … any time a coach is in that situation, I feel it, because we’re all part of the same community. Holly will land on her feet for sure.”

Of course, it’s inevitable that someday, UConn will be in the same position as Tennessee is in now: looking for a coach who can successfully follow a legend. But Auriemma doesn’t spend much time thinking about that.

For one thing, he’s busy trying to guide UConn to a 12th NCAA title — the next step is the regional semifinals against UCLA on Friday. But beyond that, he doesn’t think there’s much good in coaches attempting to plan who comes after them.

“I get asked all the time who would the next coach at Connecticut be,” Auriemma said. “I said, ‘I really would have no opinion on that.’ Because maybe a bunch of my assistants would want that job, or former assistants. I think it’s hard for a person in our situation to say, ‘Well, I’m going to hand-pick the next coach.’ I think anybody who’s tried to do that has really not done a good job of it.”

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