Holly Warlick: Early exit from NCAA Tournament fuels speculation on coach’s future at Tennessee

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Tennessee players sit on the bench in the final moments of a first-round game against UCLA in the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2019, in College Park, Md. UCLA won 89-77. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

With an early exit from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, there are questions about coach Holly Warlick’s future at Tennessee.

The uncertainty over the coach’s future is in the air is coming from one of the players and even Warlick herself.

RELATED: Photos from the UCLA game

No 6 seed UCLA bounced the No 11 seed Lady Vols in the first round of the NCAA tournament 89-77 on Saturday afternoon. Now, the story is Warlick’s future.

Postgame comments are fueling speculation about whether she can hang on as coach of the Lady Vols.

What happened on the court at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md., Saturday was overshadowed by what was said in the locker room by Lady Vols starting point guard Evina Westbrook after she was asked where the program goes from this season.

“Steps need to be taken with our staff, and just overall off the court with this team,” a dejected Westbrook said postgame.

It was a season that included a program long six-game losing skid and falling dangerously close to missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

The 89-77 loss is a bitter end for seniors Meme Jackson and Cheridene Green’s time on Rocky Top.

 “I just want to see the program get better and I think that these players have a lot of talent, I think they can get the job done. It’s just the will,” Jackson said.

“Of course I want to see the program get better I think that takes a lot of hard work and dedication and for everybody to be on the same page,” said Green.

With the team failing to make it past the opening weekend of the Big Dance for a second consecutive season, the question of Warlick’s future with the team is on everyone’s mind.

“Do I want to keep coaching? Absolutely. But if they want to go in a different direction, that’s not up to me,” Warlick said in the postgame press conference. 

Warlick is about as Tennessee as it gets. She was an assistant to the legendary Pat Summitt for 27 years following a playing career that left her jersey hanging in the rafters at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“My passion for the program, my passion for the game…if I had a daughter, I’d send my daughter – whether I’m coaching or not – to the University of Tennessee because they care about women,” Warlick said.

Warlick is under contract with Tennessee through 2021 following a contract extension that occurred in August. 

Should the university choose to go in a different direction it would be the first coaching search in this history of Lady Vol basketball.

Tennessee Athletic Director Phil Fulmer has made no public comment on Warlick’s future following the loss Saturday.

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