This item originally appeared in the April 7, 2005 issue of The Tech Talk.
By JOSH MILTON
After the departure of former Tech head coach Kurt Budke for Oklahoma State University, one of the most storied programs and sacred positions in NCAA women's basketball is full of questions -- but the answer may have been on the Lady Techsters' sideline for six seasons.
Tech's six-year assistant coach Chris Long was interviewed last Thursday for the open position and was recognized by Tech's president, Dr. Dan Reneau, as an obvious candidate for the job.
"Chris Long has to be the primary candidate because he's been an assistant coach for six years and has done an excellent job," Reneau said.
However, according to Tech's Media Relations Department, the Lady Techster community may have a new sheriff in town, as Tech's athletics' council met with Western Carolina University's head coach Kellie Harper yesterday.
In fairness to Long, Harper and other possible candidates, Dr. James Liberatos, chairman of the athletics council, chose not to comment on the requirements or preferences, primary candidates or the public opinion of Long as a candidate.
Liberatos did state, however, the importance of the public's interest in the search.
"Be proud that there is intense interest in this search," Liberatos said. "We've received numerous applications. Coaches, alumni and students alike are interested in the outcome, and that speaks volumes for the program."
That intense interest has translated into support from fans to Long, and Long has felt the arms of much of the community embrace him as a choice successor.
"The support from our fans has been overwhelming," Long said. "I'm excited that so many people are behind me, and I hope to have the opportunity to get the job. I felt like the interview went as good as it possibly could have. It was exciting for me, and I enjoyed sharing my vision of the program with our athletics' council."
Even with the decision in limbo, Long is confident the Lady Techsters will restore themselves to an elite status -- he just wants to be at the helm.
"I'm of the opinion that Tech has some great days ahead," Long said. "I'm excited for the opportunity of possibly leading this program. This community loves Lady Techster basketball, and there's no question the community has a big stake in it. This is a big responsibility, but I understand what it takes to coach and the importance of the program."
In his six years as a Tech assistant coach, Long has helped the Lady Techsters to a 167-29 record, six regular season conference titles, five conference tournament titles, four NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances and two Elite Eight berths.
Long's primary responsibilities as assistant coach has been to work with Tech's post players, serve with Budke as offensive coordinator, head junior college recruiting, aid in high school recruiting, scout and coordinate academic affairs for players.
Tech has four post players in the WNBA developed and coached by Long, including Cheryl Ford, Amisha Carter, Trina Frierson and Ayana Walker. Ford was the WNBA's 2003 Rookie of the Year, and she and Carter combined for three Western Athletic Conference Players of the Year awards.
And while Long is a highly touted recruiter and teaching coach, Budke referred to him as one of the nation's best scouting coaches.
"Chris Long is one of the top assistant coaches in this country," Budke said. "I honestly believe that there is no one better in scouting an opponent. His attention to every detail is incredible. When we play an opponent that Chris has scouted, we know every tendency of that team and each individual player.
"He has also done a terrific job helping us recruit the state of Mississippi."
Long's resume and abilities may be impressive, and he may be the fan favorite among the Tech community. But Harper is no foreigner to winning either and certainly not a stranger to Lady Techster fans.
If her maiden name, Jolly, is not familiar to Tech fans, perhaps the bitter memory of her 20 points in Tennessee's win over the Lady Techsters in the 1998 national title game is.
Harper played point guard for the Lady Vols for three years, from 1996-1998, and won three national championships.
Following her All-America honorable mention award her senior season at Tennessee, Harper was an assistant coach at Auburn before going to Chattanooga, where she helped her team win three Southern Conference championships.
Then, in her first year as the head coach at Western Carolina, Harper led the Lady Cats to an 18-14 record, Southern Conference tournament title and first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Harper was unavailable for comment, and Tech officials abstained from statement about Harper.
While Tech officials refrained from comment on coaching candidates or the progression of the search, Reneau admitted the need for haste.
"We have no set timeline, but we'd like to hire someone soon," Reneau said. "We need to find somebody so we can move forward, but we have to find the right person for the job also. This process will be as short as possible because we have signing day and recruiting coming up."