NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Forget women's rights and gender equity. When Teresa Phillips decided to substitute for a suspended coach, the athletic director saw herself as Tennessee State's only option.
She will make history Thursday night as the first woman to coach a men's Division I basketball team. Phillips said she couldn't give the job to the only remaining assistant in just his second season as a coach.
''No matter what the criticism may be, I felt they needed an authority figure on the bench,'' Phillips said Wednesday. ''With all the circumstances that have happened, it's not like it's been a normal year.''
Far from it. Phillips will be the third coach this season for the Tigers (2-20). Nolan Richardson III quit Jan. 8 after admitting he brought a gun to a Christmas night argument with assistant coach Hosea Lewis.
The Tigers are mired in a 16-game losing skid. Lewis, the interim head coach, was suspended by the Ohio Valley Conference on Wednesday because of a benches-clearing fight Monday night against Eastern Kentucky. Chris Graves, who was the third assistant last season, was the only coach left.
That prompted Phillips' decision, which has been the talk of radio and television around the country.
Plenty of men coach women's college basketball teams. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma has won three NCAA titles and two out of the last three.
But only two women have ever served as coaches for a men's Division I team, and both were assistants: Bernadette Locke at Kentucky and Stephanie Ready at Coppin State.
''I don't feel like I'm holding the banner up for anything,'' Phillips said. ''I'm trying to be supportive of our program and our team. We have a lot of healing to be done.''
Phillips has the experience. Her career record is 212-189 as a coach at Fisk and Tennessee State, where she took the Tigers to two NCAA tournament berths. She also was an assistant at Vanderbilt.
She thought about just assisting Graves, but said she should take any flak from playing Austin Peay (15-6, 8-2), the OVC's second-best team and winners of seven straight games.
The Tigers will be without two players, suspended for their part in Monday's brawl. Josh Cooperwood is their second-leading scorer, and Cedric Bryson is their center.
''I'm a realist, so I really just want to put these young men in a position to have a good outing, represent themselves really well and going out to play to win,'' she said.
Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said his Governors are more concerned with winning a conference title than their opponent's coach.
Loos said he respects Phillips as a coach and administrator. He thinks she will do well, but he declined to comment about her decision to step in as acting coach.
''Teresa has been working through a very difficult situation, one in which she felt her course of action was the best for their program. ... She is the only one who really understands those circumstances that led to it,'' he said.
Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, often mentioned as a woman who could coach a men's team, heard about Phillips' decision Wednesday morning.
''I think that certainly it speaks to what she feels she's capable of doing to step into coaching that team under adverse conditions. I am proud of her and wish her the best,'' Summitt said.
Analyst Nancy Lieberman doesn't think Phillips' one-game gig will break any barriers.
''She's trying to salvage a bad situation and maybe it'll put a positive spin on the program,'' Lieberman said. ''I wish her the best, but I don't think it's earth shattering.''
Maybe not Thursday night. But Phillips is looking to hire a head coach for a team in its seventh straight losing season. And she said she's taking applications from anyone -- male and female.
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