Rocky Top will always be home sweet home.
Kellie Harper has left Missouri State for her alma mater – taking over as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers program.
If given the chance, who wouldn’t want to return home? It’s familiar. There’s a sense of pride that’s buried deep.
Sure, Harper wore Maroon and White with pride and no doubt gave everything she had for six years.
But to wear that Orange again. To be in that arena again. To hear that song again… and again… and again… It’s part of her fabric.
In her six years at Missouri State, Harper led the Lady Bears to five-straight postseason appearances. Her best season was her last with Missouri State reaching the Sweet Sixteen despite having only one senior. She is one of only 11 coaches to lead three different schools to the NCAA Tournament; Western Carolina, NC State and Missouri State.
Harper eclipsed 20-wins three times at MSU and won the Kay Yow Coach of the Year award in 2019. The honor is given by CollegeInsider.com to the DI women’s c0ach to shows great spirit on and off the floor.
Harper’s parting gift to Missouri State sees the Lady Bears return to the national spotlight. MSU finishes the season ranked 24th in the nation. It’s the first time the Lady Bears have been ranked since February of 2004.
She definitely left her program in better shape than when she took it over.
But being nationally ranked is not an afterthought at Tennessee – it’s expected. Harper becomes just the third Lady Vols head coach since 1974.
She will replace Holly Warlick at Tennessee. Like Harper, Warlick is a former Lady Vol guard. She played at Tennessee from 1976-1980 and returned in 1985 do join Pat Summitt’s coaching staff. After 28-seasons as an assistant, Warlick replaced Summitt in 2012.
Despite reaching the NCAA Tournament is all seven years as a head coach, Tennessee fired Warlick in late March. Can you image taking your alma mater to three Elite Eight’s and a Sweet Sixteen in your tenure as head coach – but left go after 38-years of service because you could not go beyond the Final Four?
For Harper, the stress load will be heavier at Tennessee. There will be a short honeymoon period before the fans, administrators, and most importantly, the boosters want to see a winning program.
After all, Tennessee is paying Harper $750,000 a year over the five year contract.
She could have stayed at Missouri State and coasted for the next five years, receiving a decent paycheck, and have been fine – not having to worry about winning or being fired. But that’s not Kellie Harper.
She’s already been fired as a head coach once. Three postseason berths at NC State in four years wasn’t enough. She’s felt that disappointment; but that hasn’t scared Harper away from leaving the security of Missouri State.
Pat Summitt’s shadow is immeasurable. The legendary coach won 1,098-games in her career claiming eight NCAA Championships, 16 regular season SEC Championships and another 16 SEC Tournament Championships.
Three of Summitt’s national titles came with Harper as a player.
She knows the expectations.
And like her team’s displayed in Springfield, she will attack those Tennessee expectations with an unrelenting force.
Home sweet home.
|Harper’s Year-by-Year Record|
|1998-99||Tennessee||Player||31-3||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1999-00||Auburn||Administrative Assistant||22-9||NCAA Second Round|
|2001-02||Chattanooga||Assistant Coach||23-7||NCAA First Round|
|2002-03||Chattanooga||Assistant Coach||26-5||NCAA First Round|
|2003-04||Chattanooga||Assistant Coach||29-3||NCAA Second Round|
|2004-05||Western Carolina||Head Coach||18-14||NCAA First Round|
|2005-06||Western Carolina||Head Coach||9-20||–|
|2006-07||Western Carolina||Head Coach||24-10||WNIT Second Round|
|2007-08||Western Carolina||Head Coach||25-9||WNIT First Round|
|2008-09||Western Carolina||Head Coach||21-12||NCAA First Round|
|2009-10||North Carolina State||Head Coach||20-14||NCAA First Round|
|2010-11||North Carolina State||Head Coach||14-17||–|
|2011-12||North Carolina State||Head Coach||19-16||WNIT Second Round|
|2012-13||North Carolina State||Head Coach||17-17||WNIT Second Round|
|2013-14||Missouri State||Head Coach||14-17||–|
|2014-15||Missouri State||Head Coach||18-15||WNIT First Round|
|2015-16||Missouri State||Head Coach||24-10||NCAA First Round|
|2016-17||Missouri State||Head Coach||16-15||WNIT First Round||
|2017-18||Missouri State||Head Coach||21-12||WNIT Second Round||
|2018-19||Missouri State||Head Coach||25-10||NCAA Sweet 16|