Bring Kara home: Lawson should be next Tennessee coach

Betty BeanKnox Scene

If ever there was a case of mass love at first sight, it happened when Tennessee fans met Kara Lawson.

It was Nov. 7, 1999, the first exhibition game of the 1999-2000 season. Tennessee was up against the USA National Team – a powerhouse squad composed of Olympians and WNBA stars like Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley, Sheryl Swoopes and Tennessee alumnae Nikki McCray and Chamique Holdsclaw.

They rolled into Knoxville undefeated, having flattened a string of international and NCAA opponents, most recently UCLA, 112-55.

Tennessee was grittier than most and hung in there until the waning seconds when freshman point guard Kara Lawson (probably the shortest player on the floor) barreled through the tall trees and scored a driving layup with nine seconds left to play. Tennessee won 65-64, and Lawson made ESPN that night.

Kara Lawson in her football playing days

Everyone was talking about her, and she had a great back story – she defied her father’s wishes by choosing Tennessee over the likes of more academically prestigious schools like Stanford and Duke (causing him to boycott her games for the next couple of years); she bench pressed as much weight as most men; she played football on a boys’ team as a kid; she’s scary smart.

Four years later, during her senior-night ceremony after Pat Summitt handed out the flowers, Lawson commandeered Summitt’s microphone and commenced to talking about how glad she was that she had chosen Tennessee. She spoke of the ways she had grown in confidence and poise, and she said she would always bleed orange. She had one more thing to say before she surrendered the mic:

“I love you, Coach.”

She was named a UT Torchbearer when she graduated.

Lawson is 38 and has enjoyed remarkable post-collegiate success as a professional basketball player, an Olympian and an ESPN on-air personality. She started with women’s basketball and branched out to become the NBA’s first female game analyst. She has blazed a trail for women with great aplomb and a quiet confidence, even winning over Connecticut fans, who rarely express much fondness for anything from Tennessee.

She lives in her hometown of Washington, D.C., now but is frequently seen in Knoxville, whether raising money for the Pat Summitt Foundation in its fight against Alzheimer’s disease, or to visit her college roommate and best friend Cameron Broome. Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam named her to UT’s board of trustees.

Except for recent stints as head coach of two gold medal-winning USA Basketball 3×3 teams, Lawson has no coaching experience, so whenever her name came up in the Tennessee coaching discussion, most fans assumed she had no interest in sitting on anybody’s bench.

Why, they asked, would she give up a lucrative TV career for the aggravation of coaching?

Still, a number of fans just wouldn’t let go of the notion that she should be contacted about the Tennessee job.

She has excelled at everything she’s put her hand to.

She loved Pat Summitt.

She loves Tennessee.

She’s the smartest person in the room.

And she’s a winner.

Recently, a credible although unsourced rumor jacked hopes up once again: Lawson wants the job, and Fulmer is giving her serious consideration.

Take a minute to read what she said in this 2-year-old interview about the frustrations of working in a man’s world back in 2003:

“I wanted to be a coach, or an athletic director,” Lawson told The Summitt. “So I asked the Kings if I could come and observe practice. And they said no, you can’t … I said, look I’m just trying to learn. I want to do my job on television better, but I also maybe want to be a coach, I just want to learn.”

The link to the entire interview is here. The bottom line is, Kara Lawson wants to coach and we need a coach. Phillip Fulmer should hire her.

And we should throw her a parade and welcome her home.

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