For more than three decades, Holly Warlick has been instrumental in the phenomenal success story that is Tennessee Lady Vols basketball. Her impact on the program stretches from her ground-breaking days as a three-time All-America point guard at UT (1976-80), to her 27 highly-productive years as a loyal assistant for Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, to her ascension to the head coaching position at UT.
Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart named Warlick head coach of the Lady Vols on April 18, 2012, as 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.
Warlick proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was up to the task with her debut effort in 2012-13. Despite having a young, inexperienced team that was picked to finish as low as fifth in the SEC and 20th nationally, the first-year head coach impressively directed her troops to a 27-8 overall record and a 14-2 mark in league play. That effort earned Tennessee its 17th all-time SEC regular season title, and it enabled a team that saw injuries force players to miss a combined total of 53 games to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight for the 26th time in school history.
Improvement demonstrated by players not only translated into wins on the court, it also resulted in postseason attention. Meighan Simmons was named a third-team A.P. All-American, SEC Co-Player of the Year and first-team All-SEC. Bashaara Graves was chosen a Full Court Freshman All-American, SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC. Kamiko Williams, meanwhile, was taken in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty.
Warlick also was singled out for her performance, which included scoring a top-three recruiting class complete with the nation's No. 1-ranked player in 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell. The 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 A.P. and league coaches as the 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.
In year two, Warlick directed the team to a 29-6 record and the program's second SEC trophy in as many years with the capturing of the 2014 SEC Tournament. Among her top players were A.P. SEC Player of the Year Meighan Simmons, who was a third-round WNBA Draft pick of the New York Liberty, and Isabelle Harrison, a first-team All-SEC choice and the SEC tourney's MVP.
Warlick and her staff also continued building for the future, landing the nation's number six signing class in 2014. Anchoring that group are McDonald's All-Americans Jaime Nared and Alexa Middleton, the nation's No. 6 and No. 28 ranked players.
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, a league-best 16th 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. 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 2013-14 season, Warlick has invested 33 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. In 2010-11, Simmons was the SEC Rookie of the Year, and guard Shekinna Stricklen was the 20th Lady Vol named to the WBCA/State Farm All-America Team.
Additionally, Warlick has been a highly-successful recruiter for the backcourt, attracting some of the nation's finest players to UT to continue the excellence she helped establish as a player. The Lady Vols welcomed another top flight guard to the Orange and White for 2010-11 when she landed McDonald's All-American Ariel Massengale.
As a rookie in 2011-12, Massengale lived up to her billing, earning Full Court Freshman All-America and SEC All-Freshman Team honors. The point guard posted a UT freshman record of 162 assists, ranking second in the SEC in that category, and leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.1.
Warlick's tutelage also helped to strengthen the game of four-time All-SEC selection Angie Bjorklund, Kodak All-American and four-time Lady Vol All-SEC performer Kara Lawson and three-time All-SEC selection Shanna Zolman. That trio accounts for the school records for most of UT's three-point marks.
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 33 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 experience as well. A member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic basketball team, Warlick also participated in the Jones Cup, Pan American Games and World Championship competition. In addition, she was a WPBL All-Star, leading the Nebraska Wranglers to the championship of the Women's Professional Basketball League in 1981. She has 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.
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.