When Holly Warlick got back to the Tennessee locker room following her team's Sweet 16 victory against Oklahoma, her first congratulatory phone call came from Pat Summitt.
“She's proud of this team,” Warlick said. “She can't help but be proud.”
That's the relationship between the legendary coach and her successor. Summitt hasn't cast a shadow over Warlick in her first season as head coach of the Lady Vols, one that continues Tuesday night against Louisville in an Elite Eight matchup inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Summitt has been an asset.
“I love Pat around me,” Warlick said. “I love her at practice. I love her being there. I talk to her daily. Pat was a mentor as my coach, but she's a great friend. That's how I feel about Pat …
“I don't feel any pressure from her.”
After a standout playing career at Tennessee from 1976-80 and 27 seasons as a Lady Vols assistant while Summitt built a national power, Warlick earned the opportunity she had been working for all her life last April when Summitt ceremoniously handed her whistle over after stepping down from the program because of early onset dementia.
Lady Vols guard Meighan Simmons said in some ways, Warlick's familiarity with it all has made it feel like Summitt never left. In other ways, Warlick has started putting her own mark on the program.
She's animated and intense on the sideline, constantly standing, waving her arms and barking out commands to her players. But off the floor, Warlick is the type to make corny jokes on the bus or spend free time playing with her three Labradors.
“Holly is one of the goofiest people I know,” Simmons said. “She's so bubbly, she just has this attitude and personality that she's gonna be happy no matter what.
“But when it comes to basketball, she's a different person, because it's her job to make us women on and off the court. And she does an amazing job.”
And Warlick still leans on Summitt. After Chattanooga upset the Lady Vols in the season opener, Warlick glanced at the rest of the schedule and wondered what she had gotten herself into. She knew the passionate fan base — one that expects Final Fours and national championships — would not be pleased.
Summitt quickly gave her some perspective.
“She just assured me things would get better,” Warlick said. “She told me that she lost her first game, and I thought, ‘Well, you know, Coach Summitt lost her first game. I'm going to be OK.'”
Tennessee responded, capturing the SEC regular season title and winning its first three NCAA Tournament games by an average of 17.3 points.
Now, only Louisville stands in the way of the Lady Vols' 19th trip to the Final Four.
And Simmons wants to get there for Warlick.
“Holly deserves it,” she said. “She's done so much, from being next to Pat for so long and stepping in and taking that job and being honored to actually have that position. It's just an amazing feeling, and I give her a lot of credit for taking on so much.”