Updated at 12:13 a.m. on Saturday, May 26, 2018.
Tasked with his first major coaching decision since taking over as University of Tennessee at Chattanooga vice chancellor and athletic director last August, Mark Wharton could have gone the easy path.
When Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Jim Foster announced his retirement early this month, Wharton could have just given the full-time position to assistant Katie Burrows, the Chattanooga native who played at UTC and has coached in the program for the past eight seasons — five under Foster after three under Wes Moore.
But he didn't. He and a committee conducted a national search, whittled the candidates to three and then spent two days interviewing the finalists. According to a source, those included Burrows, a current head coach and a "Power Five" assistant.
Wharton didn't give the job to Burrows: She earned it.
Wharton announced Burrows as the new women's basketball coach Friday. She is the program's first female head coach since Sharon Fanning roamed the sideline from 1976 to 1987.
Due to Memorial Day and Southern Conference meetings next week, Burrows' opening news conference has been scheduled for next Friday at 2 p.m. in the Chattanooga room of the University Center.
"I am excited to introduce Katie Burrows as the new leader of our women's basketball program," Wharton said in a news release. "During my short time here, I got to see firsthand how she operates on and off the court, as well as her leadership potential for providing our student-athletes with a first-class collegiate experience."
Burrows had her first interview in Atlanta on Wednesday, then had a second interview Thursday. She was shopping at The Container Store at the Perimeter Mall when the committee called her back in and offered her the job.
Burrows played at Lookout Valley, where she was a four-time first-team Times Free Press all-city selection, a three-time region player of the year and a first-team all-state selection. She was a two-time Tennessee Class A Miss Basketball finalist and was named the Times Free Press female athlete of the year.
At UTC, she still ranks in the top 10 in program history in 3-pointers made (107) and attempted (315), and she helped lead the Mocs to 102 wins and four consecutive SoCon championship. Her playing career included a 27-game win streak and a first-round win over Rutgers in the 2004 NCAA tournament.
She started her coaching career as an assistant coach at Girls Preparatory School, followed by head coaching stints at Ringgold and Tullahoma prior to Moore coaxing her into entering the college ranks.
Her father, Joe, spent 39 seasons as a head coach at Lookout Valley. Her sister, Kristen Clounch, has coached at Lookout Valley as well and is the school's athletic director. Her brother, Keith, was the boys' basketball coach at Hardin Valley, while her sister-in-law, Jennifer (Wilson) Galloway — another former Moc — is that school's girls' basketball coach.
She made no secret that she wanted the job during an interview with the Times Free Press on May 8, but she understood and respected the process of Wharton and the search committee. In fact, it helped her.
"I could have easily been offended, or sat back and asked, 'Why did they do that?'" Burrows told the Times Free Press on Friday. "Selfishly, you want the job, but I was told ahead of time this would be the case, and I'm thankful I had to go through it because it made me prepare. I took everything in my head and put it on paper to make it real.
"I was able to evaluate my thought process — how I wanted to do things recruiting, training. I was able to sit down, evaluate, tweak, so I benefitted, and I am also able to tell myself I won the job and I'm thankful to know that. It does make it more meaningful. I always wanted it, but I had to fight for it."
Burrows' 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, while sophomore Brooke Burns averaged 16.2 points in her last five games.
"This is a burden lifted," Burrows said. "I put more pressure on myself than anybody put on me, because I truly wanted it. I felt this whole thing was bigger than me and that was self-inflicted, but because everything worked out, I'm relieved.
"Now let's go to work. The kids don't come back until June, but I'm already ready."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.