The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 27, 2019

Holly Warlick goes — Interview with Felisha Leggette-Jack — Must-click women's basketball links

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In the abstract, the Holly Warlick resume at Tennessee would be one any program would sign up for.

Seven seasons, seven NCAA Tournaments. Two SEC regular season titles, three Elite Eights. At virtually any other school, Warlick’s success would placer her on the shortlist of hottest coaching candidates for any big vacancy.

Instead, it was made official today that it is her former job that now sits vacant, Tennessee deciding to fire her after seven seasons and a 172-67 record. Coaching in the shadow of Pat Summitt, a .720 winning percentage simply isn’t good enough, particularly with the trajectory downward and players rebelling out loud.

There are plenty of takeaways from this moment. There’s the unfortunate fact that no one took losing harder than Holly, particularly at Tennessee. There’s the fact that while at one time, the Tennessee job would be considered such a gold standard that anyone would leave any other program for the chance to fill it, lots of programs have now elevated themselves to the point that, for instance, no one thinks Dawn Staley would consider leaving South Carolina, or Vic Schaefer leaving Mississippi State.

I do wonder about the rumors everywhere that Jeff Walz, current Louisville coach, is being considered for the job. It doesn’t have a thing to do with Walz’s level of accomplishment — he’s built something vital and durable at Louisville. But I’m not sure that’s a win for anyone.

For Walz, he goes from hero of the Cardinals to someone, should he win eight national titles in Tennessee, has a chance to be remembered as… the second Pat Summitt, very much standing on her shoulders. And Tennessee, in the job that elevated what a woman could be in the eyes of the broader sports world, would be sending the wrong message by hiring a man for that particular position.

Me? I’d give Cheryl Reeve a call, just on the off-chance that she’d want to combine her four WNBA titles with a few NCAA titles and put together a resume the likes of which no coach in the history of the sport ever had. The only thing close anywhere in sports would be Theo Epstein ending the curses of the Red Sox and Cubs as GM. I have also written that every sportswriter who lamented not getting a chance to cover Summitt when she passed away should stop lamenting and go cover Reeve, so I come at this with a particular viewpoint of her position in basketball history.

So, too, does the Tennessee program. It matters in a way other programs just don’t. That cuts both ways, though, as 172-67 Holly Warlick found out today.


This Week in Women’s Basketball

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! hmegdal@gmail.com.

Michelle Smith on DiJonai Carrington.

This Kelli Stacy piece on Katie Lou Samuelson’s ankle injury and how she overcame it is astonishing.

Katie Lou also got the SLAM treatment.

Jenn Hatfield, talking the backcourts of Baylor and Mississippi State.

Buffalo is sure glad Cierra Dillard came back.

A year after an answer to my question about women of color in coaching by Felisha Legette-Jack went viral, I wanted to follow up and see how she thought it was going.

Jeff Metcalfe goes big-picture of Charli Turner-Thorne, 25 years into her career.

Janie McCauley gives us the Shannon Coffee story.

Don’t miss Hayes Gardner on the bond between Alexa Middleton and Kellie Harper.

Had no idea about this history with Susan King Borchardt, thank you Sloane Martin.

Katie Barnes gives Fran Belibi the full feature treatment.

I had an NBA person tell me that is understood in league circles that Candace Parker talks circles around all the NBA players on NBA broadcasts.

Morgan Tuck has now spent almost a third of her life in Connecticut!

Enjoyed Natalie Weiner’s first two rounds recap.

More historical deep dives! Ava Wallace on UCLA-Maryland. I wish I had League Pass Time Machine so I could go watch Ann Meyers play.

Here’s Bria Felicien on Teresa Edwards.

And Kurtis Zimmerman on Tina Robbins.

Lots of fun reported tidbits in my latest mock draft.

And keep your eye on this MaChelle Joseph story, Blake DuDonis has the latest.


Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: Felisha Legette-Jack

From her presser Friday night, after Buffalo beat Rutgers, 82-71. There was more here than I could include in a single story, and I wanted to bring her to you, unfiltered.

FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK (opening statement): So funny how we're coming up the stairs, the gentleman at the bottom of the stairs said, "You got a bunch of fighters, don't you?" And I said, "Yeah, I do." So fortunate to have a bunch of fighters who understand what they're fighting for. We just beat some fighters today. I have such respect for Rutgers and their program and their history and their conference, and all the things that they stand for. But today, they ran into somebody, a team that are fighters. Fighters for their stories. Fighters for their sisterhood. Fighters for something bigger than basketball, and I am so grateful I'm in the locker room with a bunch of fighters that truly understand what this game is all about.

REPORTER: We spoke last year about the state of women of color in coaching, and Cierra just spoke, I felt really eloquently, about why it's important. But I want to know, you looking bigger picture when you're in a pod with three of the four coaches being women of color, do you think that there has been progress made as a whole over the past year? What is the state of play and how do you see it right now?

FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK: I know that I'm in a position now I can do something about it. Last year I was in a position where I could talk about it. And so, this whole year we've been in position that we've done something about it. And we got together, Dawn and myself and a few others, so five of us...and we just had a dialogue about, "What can we do, how can we help, how can we serve all women in general". But African American women in particular. You know, you don't see us reappear. If we do reappear, we don't go up, that's for sure. We go down into a different level. And now, I think African American women and men know that they have a place to come and talk and listen and be heard and listened to. And they have somebody gonna fight with them and for them. And that's what's the beauty of the day. When it continues on and it keeps moving forward.

Things change, and yes, it has gotten better. There's so much further to go. I'm just so grateful for that question. It was the last question of the day and it made the biggest change in so many people's lives including my own. I think that we have to keep this in consideration at our universities, prospective universities. Women matter. Women matter. And we may not get equal pay, but there shouldn't be that much discrepancy in what we do. We're doing the same exact thing. We're growing amazing women. I have three future doctors that I coached for four years. I have these people right here that's gonna go pro. I don't know what's a discrepancy, and I don't understand. I talked to my commissioner about that, and he understands. He gets it. And my hope is that the world gets it. Who cares if you're a woman or black or white. Equal work for equal pay. Equal pay for equal work.

REPORTER: The other day, you talked about your kids walking around saying, "Oh I'm gonna meet Geno" and all that. Now they're gonna meet Geno and his team on the court. I assume that all of that awe disappears. But how do you approach this team?

FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK: Well I saw a security down there and he weapons and everything. And I asked him a question, "Is it illegal to kidnap players here in Connecticut?" And he looked me right in my eye, he says, "Yes." I said, "Crap. There goes that scouting report." They're the best team ever! They are so awesome! I can't stand some of those of those people in the committee, whoever they are. They are a one seed. We're supposed to be somewhere else. I love Geno. I love what they've done for women’s basketball. And he too, he stood for women. He stands for women. He's done so much to grow so many women to be phenomenal women. And he can coach, man. And his team is good. And we're gonna celebrate our win against Rutgers right now all day long. And we are not thinking about...I don't even wanna watch a play right now. 'Cause I'm in awe of this guy. I really am. I think he's really awesome. I saw his restaurant. I bought something there. I wasn't even hungry. It's so ridiculous.

I mean, it is what it is. We've gotta play 'em, and I think that Geno will understand. He recruited me when he was at Virginia and I say this to him, in all honesty, in order for him to think that he did a good job of recruiting me, I have to give my best effort. And we're gonna be as prepared as we can against the best team, the best coach, arguably in the country. I think that they are a team that's positioned to win. But they gotta go through Buffalo. Oh God.

REPORTER: In the 4th quarter, I mean, all year, Cierra's carried your team. This year and to some extent last year. In the 4th quarter, it appeared that she was backing off scoring and was much more of a facilitator. Was that her own decision or did you talk to her about that?

FELISHA LEGETTE-JACK: Well you know, one thing about this pro on my team, she knows when to take possessions off. Which she had taken possessions off in the first three quarters because everything was so crazy. The fouls, I mean we were in the foul zone big time. We had three kids with three fouls. And she was the only one that could really go out and defend hard and take chances because she only had one foul. She's the only one that could attack the gaps because that's her strength, and she really didn't have enough left. And she counted her teammates to come through, and they certainly did. So, she's a smart kid. I tell, she's one of the smartest players I've ever coached. And arguably, in the country. I love being in the gym on the same floor with the kid knowing that she's on my team. Cierra Dillard is the real deal.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women's Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren PGA.com
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster