(cross-posted from Rocky Top Talk)
As I write this, it is the morning after the Alabama loss … the morning after the Lady Vols set yet two more negative records: most SEC losses ever, and losing to Bama for the first time ever in the regular season. The team appears to be imploding, and no one can stop it, least of all Head Coach Holly Warlick. This is becoming, or has already become, the worst Lady Vol season since before the Summitt era.
And yet, even now, I firmly believe Holly Warlick should be back next year as head coach. Here is why.
The Leadership Problem
There comes a time in every leader’s career when they realize that leadership is, indeed, a lonely space. When you go from being the peer of the other assistant coaches to their boss, that’s a different role. And when you go from being the friend of the players, the one they can talk with and confide in, to the one deciding who gets to play, that is a very different role.
Even though Holly has been with the program since she was a player, this is her first time as head coach, anywhere. I think she is discovering what it means to be the one in charge, and what it means to NOT be a friend, really, to your coaches or your players. She has hinted at this in some press conferences, even though she cannot, of course, come out and say it. Once this season is over, if she is the kind of person I think she is, she will reflect and learn from this season, and change some of the ways she interacts with the team and the staff. She deserves another year to get this right.
One other thing to note about this: If she does, indeed, change her approach, there will probably be some who are unhappy with the change. Having your coach be your coach and not your friend can be a shock to some, even when they know it is for the best. Finding that new approach and sticking to it will be a mark of growth for Holly.
The Lack of Leadership Problem
I once was minister of music at a church, and had built a strong youth choir program. We had had a string of years with both good voices and good leaders, and I was looking forward to the coming year’s group with anticipation, as we were keeping most of the group and adding some good singers. I planned numerous performances and scheduled some difficult music.
It was a disaster. The group never gelled, the attendance was spotty, the quality was poor, and the discipline was only whatever I could force on the group. I finally cancelled the remainder of the year, and everyone seemed relieved.
Had I changed? Had I suddenly forgotten how to lead and conduct and rehearse? No. The problem was twofold: the lack of leadership within the group, and the lack of an institutional culture that was passed on from class to class.
We had graduated a number of the strong leaders we had had, and none of the new group stepped up to take their place. The ones who could have were quiet and held back, so the tone was set by the new ones who had no sense of the work needed to be good. And, I had relied on the leadership we had, and had not built a culture that the new ones had to learn and adopt.
I think the current Lady Vol team is suffering from both problems: a lack of strong player leadership, and a lack of a culture that says “this is how we do things around here.” For too long, in my opinion, the culture has been slowly changing and degrading. Entropy applies to organizations too: if you don’t pay attention to the culture, it will eventually deteriorate and disappear.
Rebuilding a culture — or building a new one — takes time, and coaching turnover doesn’t help. Holly and the staff are going to have to talk about, and decide on, the kind of culture they want to build, then begin getting that across to the team and rewarding those who buy into the culture. She deserves another year to address this, and to start rebuilding the Lady Vols culture.
I realize there are those who say that Warlick’s coaching skills are limited, that her offensive approach is debatable, and that her game management leaves something to be desired. I did not address those issues, because I don’t think they are the root causes of the problems. These two issues are, I believe, the fundamental problems this team and this staff are facing, and until these two things are fixed, nothing else will ultimately matter. I believe Head Coach Holly Warlick deserves one more year to figure these two things out. If she does, the team will turn around, new recruits or not, and we will count this year as The Awakening for Holly, and next year as the year she actually became a head coach.