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New women's basketball head coach Katie Burrows speaks press conference in the Chattanooga Rooms at the University Center on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Friday, June 1, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Burrows 'the best' of quality candidates for Mocs job, Wharton says

Set with their decision on the new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's basketball coach last week, members of the search committee decided to have some fun with the person they were going to name the Mocs' leader.

After some discussion about the "how," the committee decided to have vice chancellor and athletic director Mark Wharton — sitting in a corner in a Godfather-like position — ask Katie Burrows how hard it would be for her to change her reservation in Hilton Head for this week's Southern Conference meetings from "interim head coach" to "head coach."

According to some members of the committee, Wharton butchered the original joke.

Still, Burrows got the message.

The former UTC standout and assistant coach was formally introduced as the head coach Friday afternoon in the Chattanooga Room of the University Center. She takes over for Jim Foster, who retired after 40 seasons as a college head coach — the past five at UTC.

In her 12 seasons of being associated with the program — eight as a coach — Burrows' teams are a combined 290-91 with 11 postseason appearances, nine in the NCAA tournament.

Burrows ran the gauntlet of emotions Friday. She thanked numerous people, getting emotional when the thanks turned to her family — most of whom were present. She laughed when recalling the Wharton story, recalling how "strange" it was seeing him in the corner.

It was the culmination of a long process for Wharton, making his first big-time hire since taking over as the athletic director in August. And he had quite the pool of candidates, including two former head coaches of national-championship teams as well as top assistants from numerous Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference programs.

But once the process started, he quit treating Burrows as a co-worker. He treated her like a candidate, and when it was her time to make a presentation, he realized she "was as good as they were," he said.

"My concern was getting a proven 'X and O' person, somebody that can build a staff and has Southern roots," Wharton told the Times Free Press on Friday. "Katie prepared like I've never seen her prepare. I saw another side of her, but she did great."

After Burrows' second interview last Thursday, she went shopping at the Perimeter Mall in Atlanta, but the committee at that point knew she was the person and called her back in to offer the position — which led to Wharton's aforementioned hijinks.

"Most of the coaches we talked to will probably in five years move on, because we're going to win a lot of games," Wharton said. "Katie doesn't have that aspiration.

"I was nervous as I talked to the quality of candidates that I was going to have to have that conversation with Katie and the staff that we weren't going to keep them, but we had seven unanimous decisions (on the committee), and I feel comfortable that we got the best one."

Burrows becomes the first UTC graduate to become a head coach at the school since Andy Meyer took over the cross-country and women's track programs in the fall of 2016. Before that was wrestling coach Heath Eslinger, who has led the Mocs to five Southern Conference championships since becoming the head coach in 2009, and prior to that was Russ Huesman taking over the football program in 2008, leading it to 59 wins in eight seasons before leaving for Richmond.

Head men's golf coach Mark Guhne is the longest-tenured alum, just finishing his 14th season at the helm.

One alum called it "a big day for the school."

In some respects, Burrows has settled in nicely. At the coaches' meetings this week in Hilton Head, she was comfortable walking around and talking with other Southern Conference leaders. But in some other ways, not so much.

She finally parked in the head coaching spot for the first time this week, refusing to do so when she was just the interim. She is in the process of moving from her office to the one reserved for the head coach.

Her first UTC team returns eight players who started games this past season, which ended with a 17-13 record and a first-round loss in the Women's National Invitation Tournament. Junior Lakelyn Bouldin averaged 12.4 points per game while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range, and sophomore Brooke Burns averaged 16.2 points in her last five games.

Bouldin called the promotion of Burrows something that's been "huge for us as a team."

"It helps a lot," Bouldin said. "We know what she's like. There's obviously a big change because Coach Foster is gone, but it's not as bad because Coach Katie is taking over. It'll be an adjustment because Coach Foster is laid back and reserved, while Coach Katie is more emotional, more high-strung, but I think it's going to be a good thing.

"We're looking forward to the season. Everyone I've talked to is looking forward to it and getting started this summer. We'll all get accustomed to her and her new role, her coaching style, but once we're through with the summer and we move onto the season, it's going to be just like it was and has been."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.

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