Coach Kim Caldwell delivers in first presser

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

To paraphrase a line from the classic 1994 film “The Paper” starring Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei and Glenn Close: Your whole world can change in 24 hours.

If you’ve never seen the movie, especially if you ever worked for a newspaper or dealt with anyone who did so, find it and watch. Old journalists will laugh and reminiscence. The rest of you will realize how unflappable and perhaps a tad insane you had to be to survive in a newsroom.

But that’s not the point of this column. On Sunday, the news broke that Kim Caldwell had been hired to lead Lady Vols basketball, becoming just the fourth head coach in the last 50 years. On Saturday, Caldwell was the head coach at Marshall in her home state of West Virginia. A lot changed in 24 hours.

“I haven’t been here long, and I know I have a lot of history to catch up on,” Caldwell said Tuesday at her introductory media conference. “The part of history that I need no catching up on is Pat Summitt’s legacy and how powerful the Lady Vol family is.

“It is a remarkable program. I can’t wait to connect with our former players and listen to their stories, hear their history and pass on what it means to be a Lady Vol and represent that in our program. I will never be Pat Summitt; nobody can be. I will strive every day to be somebody that she would be proud of.”

Caldwell has a to-do list that includes finalizing a staff, keeping as many current Lady Vols on board as she can, finding reinforcements in the transfer portal and making travel plans to be on the road next week to see the best high school players in the country at showcase events across the country.

She also took a stroll on the court with Lady Vols radio announcer Brian Rice that can be watched on social below.

During Caldwell’s first official meeting with local media after being introduced by Danny White, the vice chancellor and director of athletics, she fielded the usual questions about offense, defense, background – and the realization that she has been asked to lead a historic program with high expectations.

“You want to be somewhere where the expectations are high,” Caldwell said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my career to look at jobs and was never interested in a job that did not have high expectations, did not have a loyal fan base, did not have a hungry crowd that wanted to pay attention to what was going on, so I think that was something that makes this program incredibly special, and I’m going to work very, very hard to make sure that we keep it there.”

That, of course, is the reality at Tennessee. Kellie Harper, a former Lady Vol point guard, was fired April 1 after five seasons after never missing the NCAA tourney with two Sweet 16 appearances and then losing in the second round in 2024. (In her first season in 2019-20, Tennessee would have been in the tourney, but it was canceled due to the pandemic.) Before Harper, former Lady Vol point guard Holly Warlick led the program for seven years, won three SEC trophies, reached three Elite Eight games and then exited twice in the second round and once in the first round.

White thanked both Harper and Warlick for what they had done for the Lady Vols both as players and coaches.

“We talked about – spinning off our chancellor’s comments from earlier this year – as a university, we are good but want to be great,” White said. “Sometimes the enemy of great can be good. As a women’s basketball program, we want to get back to competing for Southeastern Conference and National Championships.”

UT Chancellor Donde Plowman, coach Kim Caldwell and Vice Chancellor/ Director of Athletics Danny White. (UT Athletics)

That is the standard at Tennessee. The last SEC tourney title came in 2013-14. The last SEC regular season title came in 2014-15. Caldwell has accepted the job knowing the weight of expectations at Tennessee.

For longtime Lady Vols fans, it’s the first time in 50 years that the program won’t be led by Summitt or someone who played for her, and that’s tough because it’s a reminder of how much Summitt is missed and the brutal disease that robbed her of memory and time.

Caldwell also deserves a shot and I wrote at length about that HERE a day before the media conference.

She spoke Tuesday about her father – he died unexpectedly from a brain tumor in 2020 – and how he introduced her to the game and coached Caldwell and her two older sisters.

“He coached us from the time that we were in elementary school all the way up, and I saw his passion,” she said. “I saw how hard he worked, and I wanted to be exactly like him, so he’s the reason that I got into coaching. I was able to work with him. He was my assistant at Glenville State the entire time up until he passed away.”

Caldwell won a Division II national title at Glenville State and turned around Marshall in one season to win the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tourney title. That earned her the WBCA 2024 NCAA Division I Rookie Coach of the Year award.

Coach Kim Caldwell

Her record got the attention of White. Caldwell is 217-31 overall, after becoming a head coach in 2016. Prior to that, she spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Sacramento State.

“The numbers and metrics, which made me want to talk to her, speak for themselves,” White said. “It’s pretty compelling.”

Caldwell talked about her mother, Linda Stephens, who’s ready to become the team mother.

“Mom, thank you for coming all this way,” Caldwell said to her mother who traveled to Knoxville for her daughter’s introduction. “Thank you for being my cheerleader, thank you for being my support system and my best friend.”

Her grandmother appears to have quite the sense of humor.

“When I told my 96-year-old grandma about the transition, her first response was, ‘Oh, I have a lot of friends in Knoxville, but I think they’re all dead,’ ” Caldwell said.

A coach has to win the press conference, and Caldwell did. She emphasized she understands the magnitude of the job at Tennessee and the woman who made it that way. She showed a sense of humor, thanked everyone at Marshall and Tennessee and stayed on message about how she intends to play and gave an honest answer when asked if it had clicked yet that she was the head coach at Tennessee.

“There are some times I have to just remind myself, ‘I’m really here. I’m really seeing what I’m seeing,’ ” Caldwell said. “It’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m so grateful for that but, no, it has not clicked yet and I will let you know when it does.

“There’s a lot to do. We need to get a great staff put in place. I need to form relationships with current players that are here, and then we need to make some additions and get in the portal and start to recruit. It’s all hands on deck right now.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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