What should Tennessee do about a coaching change, and when?
Posted: 24 August 2011 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The news about Pat Summitt’s illness is shocking, and emotional responses are appropriately being posted all over the internet.

The topic is a practical question: When and how should the LV’s implement a coaching change, and who should it be?

To me, it would be unthinkable for PHS to retire this season or for anyone in the UTK administration to ask her to do so. However, the future planning discussions have surely already started. In her courageous video announcement, Pat stated that she will be giving increased roles and responsibilities to her coaching staff beginning immediately. There is little doubt that practice and game coaching can be managed by the staff even as Pat’s disease progresses, probably for several years.

The big problem is recruiting. Success in all college sports is dependent on recruiting, especially in thin talent sports such as WCBB. And Pat Summitt is the greatest recruiter in the history of WCBB. That’s the problem. Top recruits are attracted by the reputation of the head coach, far more than any other factor. Recruits and their parents will quickly form question marks in their heads about UTK: Will I be coached by the “real” Pat Summitt even if she remains? How long will she remain? Who will be her successor? Will I like that person?

These kind of question marks will inevitably cause recruiting to suffer. Recruiting is rough and dirty game, and competitive coaches will immediately use the situation at UTK as a negative recruiting tool against the LV’s. The longer the head coaching questions last, the worse the LV recruiting climate will become, in my opinion.

Therefore, the emotionally difficult but pragmatic thing for the UTK administration to do may be to get a successor in place by the end of the 2011-12 season. Pat wouldn’t necessarily have to leave or relinquish all duties. The successor could come in as a co-head coach for a year or two, but with the clear message to the recruiting base that s/he is the coach of the future.

Who are the candidates? There probably will be strong pressure to hire someone from the extended LV family. I don’t think it will be Warlick or DeMoss. They have had great achievements, but mostly as lieutenants. In political-speak they are probably not “presidential timber”, and they both are also over 50. I’d guess that Nikki Caldwell, Kellie Jolly Harper and Matthew Mitchell might be the highest value family targets.

It’s also possible that the administration could reach beyond the LV family to grab a reasonably young coach of national stature, which might include current head coaches such as Kim Mulkey or Jeff Walz.

I just don’t see the UTK administration delaying the decision for a period of years as Pat becomes less and less involved in team management.

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Posted: 25 August 2011 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Excellent points all ... but I don’t think anything out of the ordinary is necessary, and in fact this situation may be even easier to deal with. There are plenty of precedents for hiring a coach in waiting, and in this case it makes even more sense. Pat should and will be involved for as many years as possible, but a clear line of succession will make everything clear.

For example, let’s say Nikki Caldwell is hired as associate head coach, and it’s announced she will be the next head coach when Pat steps down. Recruits will have a clear path laid out, and there should be no impediments to recruiting as normal programs do.

But the biggest difference is just that: Tennessee will now be a “normal” program, and no longer legendary. That will be the biggest change, I think.

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Posted: 24 January 2012 07:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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After seeing last nights stomping of Tenn, 72 to 44 it appears what they are doing isn’t working.

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Posted: 24 January 2012 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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That was a very surprising outcome ... I’m not surprised Notre Dame won, but the margin was a shock.

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Posted: 03 February 2012 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Last night Tennessee lost to S. Carolina for the first time since 1980—at home, no less—and star 2013 commit Kaela Davis reopened her recruiting because of the coaching situation.

The writing is on the subway walls for the Lady Vols.

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Posted: 04 February 2012 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Glenn MacGrady - 03 February 2012 03:03 PM

Last night Tennessee lost to S. Carolina for the first time since 1980—at home, no less—and star 2013 commit Kaela Davis reopened her recruiting because of the coaching situation.

The writing is on the subway walls for the Lady Vols.

Glenn, if I had to make an educated guess it would be that this is the last year for Pat Summit as head coach of Tennessee. Tennessee will probably have a day for her at the end of the season to announce her retirement. Pat Summit, whether you like her or not has been the icon for women’s basketball. Whom ever her replacement is, is going to have big shoes to fill. This new head coach needs to be hired as soon as possible at the end of the season to stabilize recruiting. Some people don’t realize how terrible a disease Alzheimer’s is. My mom who is still living has had it for over 15 years. There is no cure. Eventually you will die from it. It does effect everyone differently so noone knows for sure how long Pat will live. I hope she has many more years ahead of her.

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Posted: 05 February 2012 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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From all reports, that does seem to be the best solution. It’s too bad her team couldn’t have played better for her—but maybe they’ll turn it on in postseason.

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Posted: 05 February 2012 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Good post, Connboy.

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Posted: 05 February 2012 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Thanks Glenn!

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Posted: 07 February 2012 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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connboy77 - 04 February 2012 09:00 AM

This new head coach needs to be hired as soon as possible at the end of the season to stabilize recruiting. Some people don’t realize how terrible a disease Alzheimer’s is. My mom who is still living has had it for over 15 years. There is no cure. Eventually you will die from it. It does effect everyone differently so noone knows for sure how long Pat will live. I hope she has many more years ahead of her.

Connboy,

My heart goes out to you and your mother. I wish the best for both of you in dealing with this challenge.

You’re absolutely right that Alzheimer’s is a terrible and ultimately fatal disease. It affects different people in different ways. My understanding is that early-onset Alzheimer’s, like Pat Summitt has, is supposed to progress quite slowly—but that one of the problems is that the person might have had the disease, gradually progressing, for quite some time before it is properly diagnosed. Many times for women of Pat Summitt’s age, symptoms, ranging from forgetfulness to mood swings, are brushed off as being “menopausal.” By the time the person is properly diagnosed, the disease may be quite advanced.

It would be very interesting to know what is going on with Pat. Many people are making a lot of her seeming passivity on the bench, and Holly Warlick’s emergence as the dominant force on the sidelines. People make assumptions that this means Pat must be doing quite poorly. That could be true, but when Pat first announced her condition, they also announced that Holly would be taking the leading role on the sideline in game situations. So it could also be evidence of great discipline on Pat’s part—to deliberately pull back and take a more passive role so Holly can do her job without having “too many cooks in the kitchen” on the sideline in tense game situations.

One of the first things I thought about, other than feeling a terrible sense of loss and empathy for Pat Summitt and her family when she made the announcement last summer, and hoping that she would use this personal tragedy to be a beacon for others (which she has) as Kay Yow did for cancer, was that the impact would probably be felt first in recruiting, as other programs moved to take advantage. But then Tennessee signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the SEC. Now all the talk—and broadcast commentators openly questioning on air whether this will be her last year or when she is going to decide to retire—looks like it is beginning to take hold on recruiting after all.

The other thing I thought about was how creative and responsible UT was in arranging accommodations for this disability in order to retain Pat as head coach. Schools and employers in general are supposed to make accommodations to enable the disabled to perform their jobs, and there is no question that Alzheimer’s is a serious disability. But depending on how advanced her disease progression is, there are many coaching functions a coach might be able to perform—and perform well—with Alzheimer’s. I knew a wonderful man, a psychologist with Alzheimer’s, who wrote a book in the early stages of the disease. People tend to lose short-term memory function first, while retaining memories of significant life events—in fact, one sign of dementia in many elders is a tendency to steer every conversation back to old, and familiar, stories—so it is possible that a coach might mix up her player’s names, or forget how many fouls they had, but never lose the ability to teach fundamentals until the disease is very far advanced. So I have a great deal of respect for UT, Pat, her coaching staff and the athletes for having the guts to experiment—find out what Pat can still do well—and allow her to continue to make a contribution in the ways she still can and support her in areas of weakness. If nothing else, it may have added years to her life to remain active, and contributing, as many people who step down from a career like she has had feel a great loss of identity and purpose, adding to the trauma of the disease itself.

That’s why I hope people don’t rush to judgment and push her into a premature retirement, just because the Vols aren’t doing as well as some would like this year. There will come a time, regrettably, when unless a cure is found, the disease progresses to a point where she can no longer function as a coach, but the people on the scene, not those watching TV from across the country, are in the best position to know when that time has come. The Vols are still in the Top 25 (though I think a sympathy factor may have kept them in the Top 10 much longer than they deserved), but is that necessarily a measure of Summitt’s condition or even her performance? There have been a lot of changes in Knoxville besides the Alzheimer’s—Kelly Cain’s departure, injuries, etc. And this particular class has never lived up to the hype—remember that historic early exit from the NCAA Tournament three years ago? You’ve got a freshman point guard, have to find a way therefore to take advantage of Simmons’s scoring abilities while not letting two “shorties” create defensive mismatches, Stricklen and Johnson playing through injuries, and Tennessee is still laying 20+-point beatings on SEC teams night after night.

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Posted: 08 February 2012 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Thanks Hoopsgal!

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Posted: 08 February 2012 04:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Hoopsgal - 07 February 2012 02:08 PM

There will come a time, regrettably, when unless a cure is found, the disease progresses to a point where she can no longer function as a coach, but the people on the scene, not those watching TV from across the country, are in the best position to know when that time has come.

I snip this quote from Hoopsgal’s long and sensitive post because it relates to my OP issue of recruiting.

Unfortunately but realistically, among those watching on TV across the country are all the potential UTenn recruits, their parents and their advisers. What do they see on their TV’s: a senior class that mysteriously has repeatedly under-performed, a team with six losses that has dropped out of the top 10 in the polls, and a clearly more passive Pat Summitt on the sidelines. Many of those recruits will make decisions based on what they see on TV.

Though not yet descended into the pecuniary hell of college football, WBB at big time programs is a big business. The UTenn administration cannot afford to let its brand name or business go into a big decline because recruiting tanks. The Kaela Davis decommitment proves that there is a problem. UTenn must get a new head coach, for business reasons, shortly after this season ends.

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