Former Lady Vol Kellie Jolly Harper will be Tennessee’s next women’s basketball head coach, according to a release from the university on Tuesday.
Harper and UT agreed to a five-year contract with annual compensation of $750,000 per year. She will replace Holly Warlick, who parted ways with UT at the end of March.
"I'm excited to have Kellie as our new women's basketball coach," Fulmer said. "She is a Lady Vol through and through. Her love of the game, her care and love for her players, and her loyalty to UT all came through during the interview process.
"Kellie has proven to be a winner at every stop in her career, taking three programs to the NCAA Tournament. She certainly knows the expectations that come with this job, as she has lived it herself."
Harper will be formally introduced at a press conference at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
"I am incredibly humbled and honored to be named the head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols," Harper said. "Tennessee holds a special place in my heart, and I am excited to embrace the legacy of this proud program. I can't wait to help each player and this team be champions, on the court and off."
Harper will be just the third Lady Vol head coach in the NCAA era of women's basketball.
Harper has made five NCAA Tournament appearances in 15 years as a head coach. She spent the last six seasons with Missouri State.
Harper led the Lady Bears to the Sweet 16 as a no. 11 seed this March. She takes over for Holly Warlick, who was fired in March after seven seasons as head coach and 38 years with the program.
Harper, then Kellie Jolly, played for Pat Summitt at Tennessee, winning three national championships including the program’s only undefeated season in 1998. The point guard from Sparta, Tennessee, set things up for All-Americans Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings to make plays. Jolly was at her best on the biggest stage, scoring a career-high 20 points in the 1998 national championship game and dished out a Final Four record 11 assists in the 1997 title game. The Lady Vols compiled a 131-17 record in her four seasons on campus.
After graduating from Tennessee, Harper started her coaching career at Auburn in 1999 as an administrative assistant and then assistant coach. She moved to Wes Moore’s staff at Chattanooga in 2001, helping the Lady Mocs to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Harper earned her first head coaching job in 2004 at Western Carolina and took the Catamounts to the NCAA Tourney in her first season. Her team won four games in four days, beating Georgia Southern in double overtime in the championship game to win the Southern Conference tournament as the no. 6 seed, becoming the first SoCon team to win the tourney while having to play in the first round. Their reward was a 16 seed in the big dance and a trip to Knoxville to take on number one seed Tennessee. Harper lost to her alma mater, 94-43, on the night Pat Summitt tied Dean Smith for the most wins in college basketball history with 879.
Harper won the SoCon regular season title with Western Carolina in 2007 and brought the Catamounts back to the NCAA Tourney with a SoCon Tournament championship in 2009 thanks to a triple-OT win in the title game.
After five seasons at Western Carolina, Harper jumped up to the ACC, taking over at North Carolina State after the death of Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow. The Wolfpack went to the big dance in Harper’s first season, losing in the first round as a no. 9 seed. NC State went 50-50 over Harper’s next three seasons and she was fired in 2013.
Harper landed at Missouri State, a mid-major program with two Final Four berths in its history. She took the Lady Bears to the NCAA Tournament in her third season in 2016 and again this past season with an improbable run. Missouri State started the 2018-19 season with a 1-7 record, but the Lady Bears went 24-3 the rest of the year, snapping Drake’s 47-game conference win streak along the way, despite having only two active upperclassmen. Harper’s team won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, then upset no. 6 seed DePaul and no. 3 seed Iowa State before falling to no. 2 seed Stanford in the Sweet 16.
That run is the only time Harper has advanced past the first round of the tourney but her teams were always underdogs, entering as no. 16, 13, 9, 13 and 11 seeds in her five trips to the big dance.
Her husband, Jon Harper, has worked as an assistant coach on her staff at all three of her head coaching stops.
Harper is the fifth head coach in the 50-year modern history of the Lady Vol program. Tennessee is the only basketball program to make it to all 38 NCAA Tournaments and boasts 18 Final Four appearances and eight national championships. The Lady Vols haven’t reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the last three seasons, something that only happened once previously in the history of the program.
Harper’s worst finish as a player at Tennessee was an Elite Eight loss to Duke in her senior year.
The Sparta, Tennessee native played for her father at White County High School before joining the Lady Vols.