New Tennessee women's basketball coach Kim Caldwell embraces high expectations

BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA - MARCH 22: Head coach Kim Caldwell of the Marshall Thundering Herd talks to her players during the first quarter of a game against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the first round of the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament held at Cassell Coliseum on March 22, 2024 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Kim Caldwell is embracing the high expectation as the new women's basketball coach at Tennessee. (Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) (Greg Fiume via Getty Images)

Kim Caldwell was introduced as the fourth coach in Tennessee women's basketball history (during the NCAA era) on Tuesday. During her news conference, she made it clear that she is ready to face the challenge of taking over one of the most accomplished programs in the sport.

"You want to be somewhere where the expectations are high," Caldwell told reporters. "I've never been interested in a job that didn't have high expectations and a loyal fanbase."

The expectation in Knoxville is for Caldwell to win championships and lift the Lady Vols back to the heights they reached under legendary coach Pat Summitt, who won eight national championships. Athletic director Danny White provided an incentive in Caldwell's contract to achieve that goal, putting a clause in the agreement that would make her the highest-paid coach in women's college basketball if she wins a national title.

"I did that because I wanted y’all to see that," White said, per the Knoxville News Sentinel's Mike Wilson. "I did that before I knew who we were hiring. I didn’t know if we were going to spend multi-(millions), seven figures on a new coach or if we were going to spend what we spent."

Caldwell's five-year contract will pay her a $750,000 annual salary. That figure ranks her seventh among SEC coaches. South Carolina's Dawn Staley and LSU's Kim Mulkey earn more than $3 million each.

The new Lady Vols coach did not flinch when asked if the high-scoring offense with an emphasis on three-point shots that she's featured throughout her career would perform well in the SEC against bigger teams like national champion South Carolina and LSU.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we could do it here," said Caldwell.

Yet the new coach also showed a sense of humor, sharing that she was excited to get a text message from Peyton Manning. She also joked that all of her text messages to recruits are now getting responses.

Caldwell replaces Kellie Harper, who never finished higher than third in the SEC nor advanced beyond the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 during her five seasons.

When Caldwell's hiring was reported on Sunday, some Lady Vols fans questioned whether a coach who only has one year of Division I experience was up to the task of reviving one of the sport's acclaimed brands. But in her lone season at Marshall, the Thundering Herd won the Sun Belt regular-season and tournament titles with a 26–7 record (17–1 in conference).

Caldwell was tremendously successful at Division II , her alma mater. In seven seasons, she compiled a 191–24 record that includes a 35–1 record and national championship in 2022.

However, Caldwell knows that coaching in Summitt's shadow is a considerable endeavor. In addition to those eight national championships, Summitt had the most wins in women's college basketball (1,098) until Stanford's Tara VanDerveer passed her in 2020.

"I will never be Pat Summitt. Nobody can," Caldwell said. "But I will strive every day to be somebody she would be proud of."