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Holly Warlick faces impossible task in replacing Pat Summitt

Apr 18, 2012, 7:07 PM EDT

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Good luck to Holly Warlick. Coaching one of the premier women’s college hoops programs is hard enough.

Replacing a legend? That’s almost impossible.

But that’s what Warlick will face as she replaces Pat Summitt as the Tennessee coach.

By all accounts, the longtime Vols assistant is certainly qualified. She played for Summitt, has been an assistant for 27 years and assumed the bulk of Summitt’s duties last season. Warlick was the one often talking to the media and taking the lead during practice.

She’ll probably do just fine, too. Warlick has the full support of the Tennessee athletic department and Summitt’s blessing.

“I feel like Holly’s been doing the bulk of it,’’ Summitt told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “She deserves to be the head coach. I’m going to support her. No doubt, I’ll be there for her.”

Summitt, 59, isn’t going anywhere – her new title is head coach emeritus – and will continue to help the program recruit, analyze practices and games and chime in on meetings. But that hardly takes away the pressure from following Summitt, the most important figure in women’s college basketball history, not to mention the winningest coach ever. Replace a coach who was 1,098-208 in her career with 16 SEC titles, 18 Final Fours and 8 national championships?

That’s not possible. The best you can do is continue that success. And even that will be a challenge.

“We will work as hard as we possibly can with the goal of hanging more banners in Thompson-Boling Arena,” Warlick said.

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Is there even a proper comparison for Warlick? By my reckoning, there are four coaches who followed larger-than-life figures in the men’s game.

Gene Bartow replaced John Wooden at UCLA. Joe B. Hall followed Adolph Rupp at Kentucky. Bill Guthridge stepped into Dean Smith’s job. Mike Davis was the man who coached Indiana after Bob Knight. None of them came close to matching their predecessors, though it should be noted that all of them won at least one conference title and reached a Final Four. Hall even won a title.

But all of them fell short of the high standards set by their predecessors. How could they not?

Perhaps Warlick can thrive and keep the Vols among the elite women’s programs. Tennessee hasn’t won a title since 2008 or been to a Final Four since then, but it has plenty of talent and support. Wish her luck.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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