The 2012 SEC Championship offers a rare match up between legendary head coach Pat Summitt and a former Tennessee great, now head coach in Nikki Caldwell of the LSU Tigers. Will Pat Summitt's record of never loosing a game to a former player turned head coach be broken? Tennessee players and coaches weigh in on the debate.
In today’s SEC Championship the basketball world will witness an historic match up between legendary Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt and former Lady Vol Nikki Caldwell, now the head coach at rival LSU and one of the rising young stars in women's basketball coaching.
In her 38 years of coaching, Summitt has never lost a game to a former player turned head coach. There are over a dozen former UT players who are now in the college coaching ranks, including Kellie Jolly-Harper of NC State, Niya Butts of the University of Arizona and Semeka Randall of Ohio University. But with speculation that Caldwell is on the short list of candidates to take over the reins when Summitt retires, the interest in this game in Vol Nation couldn’t be higher.
For Caldwell, this is arguably the most important game in her young and very successful career as a head coach. In her first season at the helm for LSU, she has guided the Tigers to the SEC Championship for the first time since 2008. The Tigers have had eight SEC Championship appearances, winning it all in 2003 and 1991.
Ironically, 1991 was Caldwell’s freshman year as a player for the Lady Vols; she was named to the All-SEC freshman team that year. That year, Pokey Chatman held the reins at LSU, guiding the Tigers past the Vols for LSU's first SEC Championship.
That same year Caldwell helped Tennessee win its third national championship, a 70-67 overtime victory over the Virginia Cavaliers (one of just two title games in the tournament's history to go to extra minutes). Caldwell's defense against Heather and Heidi Burge was pivotal in the championship game.
Caldwell, a native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., returned to Rocky Top in 2002 as an assistant coach to Pat Summit after a short assistant coaching job with Debbie Ryan at UVA (1999-2002). Over the next five years, Caldwell became known as one of the top recruiting coaches in the nation. In 2003-04, she and another famous Tennessee assistant, Holly Warlick, signed what is widely recognized as the best recruiting class of all time. That class, which arrived on the Tennessee campus in 2004, included six high school All Americans, among them future WNBA stars Candace Parker, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike. Caldwell then went on to help Pat Summit guide this class to three Final Four appearances, culminating in back-to-back national championships in 2007 and 2008.
Just after that, Caldwell was hired as the head coach for UCLA where she brought the Bruins to national prominence, posting a 72-26 record in her three years at the helm. She led UCLA to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and was named the PAC-10 Coach of the Year in 2010.
On April 4, 2011, Caldwell was introduced as the new head coach of LSU, replacing Van Chancellor. In her first season she has led the Tigers to a 22-9 overall record and now, here we are at the SEC Championship, where the young prodigy gets the opportunity to face her mentor and role model.
In the epic matchup, Caldwell will face a senior Tennessee class she was very influential in recruiting. Glory Johnson had nothing but praise for Caldwell. “She's a great coach and I would have loved to have gotten to play for her.”
This game is also about friendships and lifelong relationships. Caldwell and Warlick are not only collegues, but very close friends off the court. The two helped start the Champions for a Cause Foundation which raises money for breast cancer research with organized motor cycle rides. The two talk on the phone several times a week swapping war stories in the coaching world and have nothing but mutual respect.
“We usually talk before each game, but I’m not calling her tonight”, laughed Warlick. “I love Nikki Caldwell, but she is not going to be a great friend of mine tomorrow, but I respect what Nikki and her staff have done and Nikki is just an example of the success of people who have played and have coached for Pat Summitt and I’m not surprised by how successful Nikki has been.”
Most of all, this match up is a testament to the legacy of Coach Summitt, that one of her own has become the most promising young coach in the nation. Coach Summit, the best of the best, can rest assured that the standard of excellence she set for the women's game will continue on in good hands.
The SEC Championship game airs on ESPN2 at 6:00 p.m. (EST).
46 lady Vols are in the coaching ranks at the high school, college and pro level.
Key former Tennessee players who are current or retired college coaches
Jody Adams-Wichita State University
Niya Butts-University of Arizona
Tonya Edwards-Alcorn State
Teresa Geter-Denmark Technical College
Tanya Haave-Metro State College of Denver
Gwen Jackson-St. Paul’s College
Kellie Jolly Harper-NC State
Lea Henry Manning-Darton
Semeka Randall-Ohio University
Trish Robers-former head coach of Stony Brook
Joy Scruggs-retired head coach of Emory & Henry
Cindy Noble Hauserman-retired head coach of Centre College
Nancy Bowman Ladd-retired head coach of University of the Southhttp://gallery.insidewomensbasketball.com/FullCourtPhotoGalleries/NCAA/Pat-Summitt-2012-SEC-Tourney