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Tennessee Lady Vols fire Kellie Harper in necessary decision

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You never like to see somebody fired, especially when she is somebody who gave her all to the university that fired her. However, the Tennessee Lady Vols had to make that decision Monday afternoon, and regardless of the difficulties, it was the right one.

UT announced the firing of women’s basketball head coach Kellie Harper on Monday. Harper, who won three national championships for the program as Kellie Jolly from 1996 to 1998, is out after five seasons as head coach on Rocky Top. Her husband, Jon, is an assistant with the program.

Danny White showed real guts with this decision. He handled it perfectly. Not only did he fire Harper, but he did it the day her buyout would be reduced from $1.1 million over four years to $550,000 over five years, saving the program $1.7 million.

Add in the fact that this move came on the same day of the LSU-Iowa Elite Eight matchup, amidst the storylines of Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Kim Mulkey, and White is sending a reminder that the Tennessee Lady Vols still have a standard. As the best hirer in the game, nobody could be more trusted to move UT forward.

This is the second Tennessee Lady Vols head coach firing since Pat Summitt’s untimely retirement due to dementia. Holly Warlick, who was an All-American player and a Summitt assistant for all eight of her national championships, was fired after seven years in 2019.

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Harper was fired after a 20-13 record and losing to the N.C. State Wolfpack in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. N.C. State fired Harper 11 years ago, and the coach they replaced her with, Wes Moore, is the one who beat her last week.

In five years at UT, Harper made four NCAA Tournaments in four opportunities. The tourney was canceled her first year due to COVID, but she had a bubble team that year anyway. She reached the NCAA Round of 32 twice and the Sweet Sixteen twice.

Phillip Fulmer hired Harper in 2019 after a Sweet 16 run with the Missouri State Lady Bears. Harper had made five NCAA Tournaments in 15 years as a head coach before taking over at UT. It was the classic case of overreacting to one tournament run.

Going forward, the Tennessee Lady Vols can’t stick to the Summitt coaching tree or have all these rules that the contingency insists on. It will derail White the same way it derailed Fulmer. White must be allowed to make his decision freely, and he should rebuff anybody who tries to hinder that.

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