Former Tennessee women's basketball coach Holly Warlick said UConn coach Geno Auriemma was "not fair" in his criticism of the Lady Vols program following the NCAA's decision to not grant a transfer waiver to junior guard Evina Westbrook.
"I hate for it to come to this, but nobody except the NCAA made the decision," Warlick said Friday when contacted by ESPN. "To throw us under the bus, I think it's kind of crazy."
Warlick was fired in March after seven seasons as head coach and 27 seasons as an assistant at Tennessee. She also played for the Lady Vols and is a native of Knoxville, Tennessee. Although she said the way her career ended there is still painful, she had positive things to say about the Tennessee program, where former Lady Vols guard Kellie Harper is in her first season as head coach.
"Tennessee is still a great program. Even me, after being let go, I can sit here and say that," said Warlick, whose head-coaching record was 172-67 overall. "To say it's a bad program is not fair.
"There are a lot of things we had to deal with last year, but I'm not putting all that out there publicly. But there are so many more layers than what I think Geno knows. I don't want to stir things up, and go back and forth. But there are so many factors that went into last year."
Westbrook played two years at Tennessee. She transferred to UConn after the Lady Vols went 19-13 last season and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Westbrook told the media after that loss that some changes needed to be made to Tennessee's staff. Warlick lost her job four days later, but Westbrook still transferred.
UConn applied for a waiver to allow her to be eligible to play this season rather than sitting out a year. The NCAA denied it on Nov. 1, and then UConn's appeal also was turned down this week.
UConn said Tennessee did not oppose the transfer, but Auriemma said Friday he thought Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer could have been more helpful in the process.
Auriemma said earlier this week that the situation at Tennessee was "not normal" and also told reporters, "If you knew what the environment was [at Tennessee] ... you would not want your kid in that environment."
He was asked Friday about why UConn, which said it submitted more than 100 pages of documents supporting Westbrook's waiver, wasn't making specific details public.
"I don't feel like it's my place to do that," Auriemma said. "It's somebody else's. If Evina or anyone from her camp wants to, that's different.
"We've had kids transfer in here lots of times and never applied for a waiver because we knew, 'Hey, the kid left for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.' This one was different. This one was 110,000 times different. For the NCAA to not see that was very disappointing."
Warlick, who was on coach Pat Summitt's staff for Tennessee's eight NCAA titles, countered Auriemma's remarks.
"We've produced a lot of not only great players but quality people from that program," Warlick said. "It's not too fair to say something like, 'I wouldn't let my daughter go there.' There are two sides to every story. But nobody is going to talk about the details of it, so it's probably best to let it go.
"Listen, every program is going to have difficulties. I'm not going to say we didn't, because we did. And bottom line, that's on me. We needed to work them out, and it was a challenge. You could tell we had some problems because of how we played. We should have been achieving so much more.
"In the long run, it wasn't a good fit for Evina and her family. It's not always a great fit, and that's OK. That doesn't mean the kid is a bad kid. We've had other kids transfer, too, like Mimi Collins [to Maryland]. I do take a little offense [to Auriemma's remarks], but I can handle it toward me because I've had stuff thrown at me for the last seven years. But to have that thrown at the program is hard for me to swallow."
Tennessee and UConn first met in 1995, and it became the premier rivalry in women's basketball. But Auriemma and Summitt had a contentious relationship, one that got worse after a recruiting battle for Maya Moore in the mid-2000s. Summitt ended the series after 2007.
Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type in 2011, and Warlick took over as head coach for the 2012-13 season. Summitt died in 2016.
The idea to bring back the series bounced around for several years, and the programs agreed to do it for this season (Jan. 23 at UConn) and next year (at Tennessee). Warlick said she wanted to do it because part of the proceeds from the game will benefit the Pat Summitt Foundation, which promotes Alzheimer's awareness and research.
ESPN's D'Arcy Maine contributed to this report.