Talk about making an entrance. Check the list of women’s basketball’s current top programs, and you’ll find that none of the head coaches forged the won-lost record that Holly Warlick has during her first four years sitting in the first chair.
Warlick, entering her fifth year for the 2016-17 season, has built a very impressive résumé. Her worksheet contains accomplishments few coaches have achieved in their entire careers, much less as first-time head coaches. Her 108-34 record (.761) gives her the seventh-highest victory total ever recorded during the first four years on the job by an NCAA Division I women’s basketball coach.
Warlick became the 17th women’s basketball coach to win 100 games in her first four seasons at the NCAA Division I level when UT beat Arkansas, 75-57, on Feb. 4, 2016. She’s only the sixth since 1992 to do that. She joined the legendary Leon Barmore of Louisiana Tech as the only skippers to direct their programs to three NCAA Elite Eight appearances in their first four seasons as head coaches.
Warlick’s career (.761) and SEC (.781, 50-14) winning percentages rank her first among all SEC women’s head coaches. Her Lady Vols made it to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2013, 2015 and 2016, and may have extended their runs had it not been for some key injuries the past two seasons. Tennessee has claimed three SEC trophies in Warlick’s first four seasons, winning regular-season crowns in 2013 and 2015 and claiming the tournament title in 2014.
Warlick has continued the Lady Vols’ 100-percent graduation rate for players who have completed their collegiate careers at Tennessee. Since becoming head coach, six of her players have been taken in the WNBA Draft. Three, including a first-rounder, were taken in 2015.
Without any previous head coaching experience at a lower division or outside the spotlight, Warlick stepped onto basketball’s biggest stage and has impressively guided the Lady Vols to a pair of SEC regular-season championships (2013, 2015) and an SEC Tournament title (2014). She has two NCAA Elite Eight appearances to her credit and already has sent five Lady Vols to the WNBA all while maintaining a 100-percent graduation rate among Tennessee’s players.
Whether as an All-America player from 1976-80, an assistant and associate head coach for 27 seasons from 1985 to 2012, or head coach from 2012 to present, Warlick has thrived during her more than three decades in the spotlight at Rocky Top. She enters her fourth year as head coach and 35th season of overall affiliation with the program hoping to build upon last season’s 30-6 record, SEC regular-season co-championship and NCAA Elite Eight finish.
Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart named Warlick head coach of the Lady Vols on April 18, 2012, as women’s hoops legend Pat Summitt stepped into the role of head coach emeritus. In a touching and symbolic gesture the following day at a press conference announcing the changes, Summitt presented her coaching whistle to her long-time aide and former floor general.
Since that day, Warlick has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was up to the monumental task. Despite being picked to finish as low as fifth in the SEC and 20th nationally, her first squad won the 2013 SEC regular season title and made the NCAA Elite Eight, finishing 27-8/14-2 despite injuries that forced players to miss a combined 53 games.
Her 2014 edition went (29-6, 13-3), winning an SEC Tournament title and making it to the NCAA Sweet 16. Last season, her third team reached the 30-win plateau at 30-6/15-1, claiming a share of the regular-season SEC crown and charting the second NCAA Elite Eight appearance in her three seasons.
During Warlick’s first three seasons, six Lady Vols have been taken in the WNBA draft. Bashaara Graves (second round) was selected in 2016. Isabelle Harrison (first round), Cierra Burdick (second round) and Ariel Massengale (third round) were chosen in 2015. Meighan Simmons (third round) was taken in 2014, and Kamiko Williams (second round) was selected in 2013. Simmons twice was named SEC Player of the Year (2013, 2014) during her UT career.
On the international scene, Warlick became a gold medal coach, and two of her players joined her in earning that hardware. Warlick served as an assistant coach, while Mercedes Russell and Diamond DeShields played on the undefeated (6-0) 2015 USA World University Games Team in South Korea.
From 2012-15, Tennessee also has produced in the classroom, with 12 players earning a total of 20 spots on the SEC Academic Honor Roll. In 2015, Cierra Burdick became Warlick’s first CoSIDA Academic All-American, garnering second-team honors and also being named a UT Torchbearer, the most prestigious accolade at student at Tennessee can receive.
Warlick has been recognized personally for her performance. In 2013, members of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association named her the Spalding Maggie Dixon Division I Rookie Coach of the Year. She was selected by the AP and league coaches as the 2013 SEC Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year, and members of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association also chose her as TSWA Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year that season.
Warlick and her staff also continue to build for the future on the recruiting trail. They have welcomed seven McDonald’s All-Americans in three seasons and feature two of the top three players in the 2013 signing class in Russell and DeShields as well as top-10 players in Bashaara Graves (No. 5, 2012) and Jaime Nared (No. 6, 2014). Te’a Cooper, a 2015 signee, was considered a top 5 player by several rating services.
After Warlick helped shape the direction of Lady Vol basketball as an assistant on Summitt’s staff for more than a quarter of a century, the pupil took on greater responsibility and oversaw daily supervision of the basketball office during the 2011-12 season. She also handled a large measure of the media obligations after Summitt’s Aug. 23, 2011, announcement regarding the diagnosis of early onset dementia, “Alzheimer’s type.”
Providing an excellent example of how people rally around each other, the Tennessee staff members pulled together remarkably in the face of that adversity. The end result was a 27-9 overall record, an SEC Tournament Championship and advancement to the NCAA Regional Final.
It’s worth noting that Warlick was by Summitt’s side, either as a player or an assistant, for 949 of the coach’s NCAA-record 1,098 wins and all eight NCAA National Championships. Her value to the program has been evident for some time, as she had held the role of associate head coach since the 2005-06 campaign.
The WBCA also had recognized Warlick’s contributions to Tennessee’s success through the years, naming Warlick the nation’s top assistant coach after she helped lead UT to its seventh national title in 2007. The NCAA Division I women’s basketball coaches also recognized Warlick as one of the nation’s top assistants in 1998, ranking her prominently in The Women’s Basketball Journal poll.
In addition to the NCAA title and coaching honor in 2007, Warlick also teamed up for the first time with former fellow Lady Vol player and assistant Nikki Caldwell, the current head coach at LSU, to pursue her other passion. That pursuit is riding a motorcycle and raising money for the fight against breast cancer.
Warlick and Caldwell created the Champions For A Cause Foundation, a long haul motorcycle ride dedicated to raising funds and awareness for a cure for breast cancer. The charitable organization has raised and donated more than $150,000. Past trips include the inaugural ride from San Francisco to Knoxville as well as trips from the Badlands to Las Vegas and from Knoxville to Key West, Fla., New Orleans, Niagara Falls and, most recently in 2013 and 2014, Panama City, Fla.
On Feb. 10, 2008, Warlick and Caldwell presented a $10,000 check to the late N.C. State Head Coach Kay Yow and the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. At Tennessee’s “Live Pink, Bleed Orange” game vs. Vanderbilt on Feb. 17, 2013, three checks worth $15,000 were presented by Champions for a Cause to the UT Breast Health Outreach Program, Kay Yow Cancer Foundation and the Brady James Foundation to help raise money for breast cancer research. Those presentations to organizations have become an annual event, thanks to fundraising efforts and the generosity of many.
Warlick also presented a special pink basketball to her sister, Marion Ferrill, prior to the start of that game in 2013. Ferrill was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2012 and was pronounced cancer free on Sept. 30 after undergoing surgery shortly after her diagnosis.
With all of her accomplishments in coaching and in her charitable endeavors it might be easy to overlook the fact that Warlick left just as powerful a mark on women’s hoops as a player at UT. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the charismatic Knoxville native was flying up and down the court as an All-America Lady Vol point guard.
For more than three decades, Warlick has been considered the finest point guard ever to play for the Lady Vols. In addition to being selected to the CONVERSE/Lady Vol Team of the Decade for the 1980s in January of 1994, five different halls of fame opened their doors to her.
On Feb. 27, 2004, she was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. In October 2002, she became a member of the University of Tennessee Lady Vol Hall of Fame in the second class of inductees. In June 2001, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame selected Warlick as one of 10 inductees enshrined into the Hall for the Class of 2001. For the hometown girl, who grew up in the Rocky Hill section of Knoxville and graduated from Bearden High School, it was a dream-come-true.
In the summer of 1994, Warlick gained admission to her first hall of fame. She was honored as one of the City of Knoxville’s finest all-time athletes with her inclusion in the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.
Including the 2014-15 season, Warlick has invested 34 years in the program, having helped shape UT into a national powerhouse with tenure as both a player and a coach. Warlick’s expertise and major contributions to the team as an assistant came from her work with the guards. Simmons, Ariel Massengale, Shekinna Stricklen, Kara Lawson, Angie Bjorklund and Shanna Zolman are just a few of the successful players Warlick helped recruit and coach as an assistant coach.
Warlick’s association with the Lady Vols started in 1976 when she joined the program as a scholarship 400-meter track athlete who ended up walking on to the basketball team. Soon, she would become the most prolific player in the history of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball.
Warlick was the first player in Tennessee athletics (men or women) to have her jersey retired (number 22) at the end of her career in 1980. Bearden, her prep alma mater in Knoxville, retired Warlick’s high school jersey (also No. 22) prior to a home football game on Oct. 26, 2012.
Known as a play-making wiz during her four years as UT’s point guard, Warlick was once tabbed the “best player in the South.” As a rookie, Warlick helped lead the Lady Vols to their first Final Four appearance in school history in 1977. She had no trouble adjusting her enthusiasm and knowledge of the game into the coaching role.
In 19 of the past 34 years Warlick has been affiliated with UT, she has found herself at the Final Four as a player (1977, 1979, 1980) or as a coach (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008). Her best Final Four showing as a player was national championship runner-up in her senior season. As a coach, she has helped the Lady Vols grab the brass ring all eight times (1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2007 and 2008).
A three-time All-American while playing for Summitt from 1976-80, Warlick previously held UT records for most assists in a game (14), most steals in a contest (nine), most assists in a season (225) and most games in a career (142). She continues to hold the Lady Vol single-season steals record with 141 in 1978-79.
Warlick possesses vast international playing experience as well. In addition to being a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, which did not compete in the Moscow Olympics, Warlick and the 1980 U.S. team won gold at the 1980 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
She also captured a gold medal playing for the USA at the 1979 FIBA World Championship, marking the first gold medal for the USA at the FIBA World Championships since 1957 and breaking a streak of five-straight golds by the USSR, a silver medal at the 1979 Pan American Games and gold at the 1979 R. William Jones Cup. Additionally, she served as a player representative on the USA BASKETBALL council and was a member of the USOC Advisory Council for Basketball.
In recognition of being a former Olympian, Warlick earned the distinct honor of running the Olympic torch through Knoxville as it made its way to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga.
Post-collegiately, she was a WPBL All-Star, leading the Nebraska Wranglers to the championship of the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1981.
Prior to joining the Tennessee staff for the 1985-86 season, Warlick gained experience at two other stops on the coaching circuit. She was an assistant coach at Virginia Tech from 1981-83 and an assistant from 1983-85 at Nebraska.
A native of Knoxville, Warlick earned her B.S. in marketing from Tennessee in 1981 and her master’s degree in athletic administration from Virginia Tech in 1983. Warlick added “biker” to her vitae in 2001. To commemorate her induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, a number of Warlick’s friends got together and presented her with a Harley-Davidson “Sportster” motorcycle. Just six years later, Warlick already was using her love of the bike towards a greater cause, establishing the Champions For A Cause Foundation with Caldwell.