July 20, 2021 

For Kellie Harper, the standard is always championships

UT head coach's two-year extension extends her contract through the 2025-26 campaign

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Kellie Harper draws up a play during a women’s college basketball game. Photo Credit: Freed-Hardeman Athletics Twitter Account

Tennessee women’s basketball head coach Kellie Harper doesn’t compare herself to Hall of Fame coach Pat Summit, who led the Lady Volunteers to eight national championships and established the program as a national powerhouse.

“I would come up short,” she said in a conversation with The Next.

Still, Harper honors the legacy of coach Summit, for whom she played point guard at UT from 1995-99. Kellie (Jolly) Harper played 132 games in leading the Lady Vols to NCAA national championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998.  The Sparta, Tennessee native recognizes the distinct role that the program has played in moving women’s basketball into the national sports landscape.

“I’ve always felt like the Lady Vol program has a responsibility not only to our university, to our community, to our state, but also the nation. College women’s basketball is better when Tennessee is competing at the top,” Harper said.

Harper will have a chance to continue competing at the top with the UT program for the foreseeable future. Only the third Lady Volunteers head coach in the NCAA era of women’s basketball, Harper signed a new contract with the university that now runs through April 14, 2026, a two-year extension from her previous deal. She’ll make $50,000 more annually in supplemental pay, bringing her total annual earnings to $800,000. 

One of just 11 Division I women’s basketball head coaches to lead three different schools to the NCAA Tournament, Harper has led Western Carolina, NC State, Missouri State and now Tennessee to NCAA tournament bids. She is 38-18 in two seasons at Tennessee and led the Lady Vols to the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Coach Harper looks forward to her third season at the reigns of the legendary program, anxious to maintain a championship pedigree in Knoxville.

“The mark of a program is you find that consistency year to year. I’m really excited about the upcoming season with the players that we have…I’m excited about the growth of our returners, I’m excited about our newcomers and figuring out how to help this team be the best team they can be and go out and be competitive.”

The UT graduate has a simple message for recruits interested in playing for the Lady Volunteers program.

“If you are not coming here to win a national championship, this is not the place for you. That has to be the goal because that’s the standard.”

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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