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Tennessee fires Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper after five seasons

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Tennessee fired Kellie Harper as coach of the Lady Vols on Monday after five seasons.

Athletic director Danny White announced that Harper would not return, saying he told Harper that her alma mater was making a change after a “thorough review” of the women's basketball program.

“Decisions like this are never easy to make, especially for someone who has done so much for the Lady Vols as a three-time national champion student-athlete,” White said in a statement. “Your love and passion for Tennessee and the Lady.” Vols is second to none. She put so much heart and soul into our program and really gave everything for Tennessee.”

Harper ends her tenure as Lady Vols coach with a 108-52 record, including 53-24 in Southeastern Conference play. She was one of only two coaches to complete four different programs NCAA Tournament.

But that's not the standard at Tennessee, where she helped win three straight national titles as a player under the late Pat Summitt. The Lady Vols remain the only program to have appeared in every NCAA tournament.

White said he has spoken with the Lady Vols and plans to conduct an aggressive search for the next leader of a program with eight national championships. Tennessee hasn't won a national title with Summitt since 2008. The Lady Vols have not reached the Final Four since then.

Harper coached the Lady Vols to consecutive Sweet 16s each of the last two seasons. But they lost to their former boss Wes Moore and North Carolina State in the second round, 79-72, ending their fifth season.

She called it an honor to work at her alma mater and lead a program that is very close to her heart.

“I am grateful for the opportunity my staff and I have had to lead an amazing group of young women and mentor them on the court and teach them life skills that will serve them well beyond the game of basketball,” Harper said in a statement.

Harper, who also had stints at Western Carolina and Missouri State, has a 393-260 record in 20 years as a coach, with 16 postseason berths, including nine in the NCAA Tournament. She led the Lady Vols to consecutive Sweet 16 titles the past two seasons, the second after losing starting player Tamari Key to a blood clot problem in December 2022.

Tennessee played much of this season without guard Destinee Wells, a three-time conference player of the year who left in December with a leg injury.

The Lady Vols finished third in the SEC for four straight seasons between 2020 and 2023. They reached the SEC Tournament championship game in 2023 for the first time since 2015. They lost this year's semifinal to South Carolina on March 9 with a resounding 3-win result.

This is the second coaching change in the SEC this offseason. Kentucky fired Kyra Elzy, who won the SEC tournament title in 2022, and hired Kenny Brooks from Virginia Tech.

Harper was hired in 2019, replacing another former Lady Vols great, Holly Warlick. Warlick was fired after going 172-67 in seven seasons and making it to the regional finals in three of her first four years. But then she didn't get past the second round in her last three seasons.

That's not the standard at the program once led by Summitt, whose statue stands right outside the arena where the Lady Vols play, or in a league where LSU is the reigning national champion and South Carolina is under coach Dawn Staley is aiming for his third title.

A year ago, Harper received her third contract extension until April 2028.

Men's coach Rick Barnes led his team to the SEC regular-season title and a loss in the second Elite Eight on Sunday.

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This story has been corrected to show that Tennessee lost in the semifinals, not the championship game, of the SEC Tournament this season.

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