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Keeping Lady Vol head coach Kellie Harper? It’s complicated

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If there’s one thing that every fan should consider an insult to their favorite college athletic program, it’s the following statement:

“Well, who are we gonna hire?” some like to say when the question of firing a coaching comes up. Well, I have news for you. There’s no possible worse mentality to have as a hirer – if you’ve done your homework. Don’t “get ready” to hire a coach if you’re an athletic director.

Be ready.

Is Tennessee athletic director ready to replace Lady Vol head coach Kellie Harper, barring a strong run in the NCAA Tournament? I doubt it. He just gave Harper an extension after the Lady Vols posted a similar showing last season. The Lady Vols were 25-12 and 13-3 in the SEC last season. They’re 19-12 and 10-6 in the SEC in 2023-23. That seems to be the expectation, about 20 wins and no victories to be proud of. If the Sweet 16 happens, then plan a parade.

I’m not ready to call for Harper’s job. I’m just saying that fearing a hire is a pretty pathetic reason for not making a change if you deem it necessary. White should already have a list of coaches ready to target if he loses any of the coaches in Tennessee’s athletic department, even Josh Heupel. Remember that whole Lane Kiffin thing?

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The Lady Vols’ coaching position wasn’t very attractive shortly after Pat Summitt was forced from her position. Nobody wants to follow a legend, so there was no way former Lady Vol Holly Warlick was going to succeed. Now, Harper is struggling – still struggling – in her fourth season as the Lady Vols’ head coach. If White plans on making a change, it might be a good idea to think outside the box, and outside the Lady Vol family. Therein lies the problem.

By hiring Warlick and Harper, Tennessee kept the incredibly loyal fan base that spent their formative fan years watching Summitt. Will those fans be in the same orange seats if White hires a coach with no ties to Tennessee or Summitt? Do the loyal Lady Vol fans love basketball or just the nostalgia of a program that forever shaped the sport?

While I think the Lady Vols should be unafraid to approach any potential coaching candidate, there’s no need to go crazy. I’m well aware that NIL funds and booster funds (theoretically) come out of two different money pots, but if I’m a booster/advertiser that is going to drop a couple of million on the Vols, I’d take Nico Iamaleava over Kara Lawson any day of the week.

It’s time to come to the realization that the Lady Vols are never going to be the same and if White is fiscally sound, he won’t break the bank for a great coach, if he decides to replace Harper. However, doing so would be risky.

White can stay the path and keep profiting off of the fan equity built by Summitt and countless Lady Vol stars. He knows the fans will still be there even if their team is average. If he fires Harper and hires a coach outside of the Lady Vol family, there could be a backlash of epic proportions, especially if Tennessee just continues to languish in mediocrity.

If I’m White, I don’t make a change until football is right where I want it. Then, it’s time for every coach in the athletic department to feel the heat. Not winning? Sorry, Tennessee can afford better. Then, who can the Lady Vols hire? The answer is most anyone they want to.

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