By Phyllis Qualls and
While many TSU supporters were headed to Memphis for the Southern Heritage Classic on Friday, September 8, the Tiger family celebrated another milestone as TSU Athletic Director Teresa Phillips was inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame.
Phillips was a star player on the Vanderbilt women’s basketball team in the late-1970s and played all four years on an academic scholarship. In her sophomore year, Vanderbilt upgraded women’s basketball to intercollegiate status; Phillips started at center her sophomore and junior years, and was named Lady Commodore Athlete of the Year in 1980. She also won the Nashville Civitans’ Sportsmanship Award in 1979 and 1980.
Phillips earned several honors as a player at Vanderbilt. She was the first recipient of the Lady Commodore Athlete of the Year honor, given to the best all-around female athlete. She also has the distinction of being the first African-American female student-athlete at Vanderbilt. She earned her undergraduate degree in economics in 1980.
Phillips joined Vanderbilt’s first full-time women’s coach, Phil Lee, as an assistant after graduation and helped lead the team to a National Women’s Invitational Tournament championship in 1984.
Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director David Williams said, “There is being the first and then there is being the first. The type of first that Teresa Phillips was and is, is the type that immediately begins the work and lays groundwork for the second, third and even more. Teresa is a trailblazer who has and continues to clear the way for others. In my view, that is what a hero is. Teresa Phillips is my hero.”
Phillips, in her 28th year at TSU, continues a body of work that is recognized nationwide with a strong commitment for student-athletes to be successful.
“The TSU family is extremely proud of Teresa Phillips and her induction into her alma mater’s Athletics Hall of Fame,” said TSU President Glenda Glover. “Ms. Phillips has been a trailblazer on every level in her involvement with collegiate athletics. Her most valued role has been to guide our program to ensure TSU’s student-athletes earn their degrees and serve as leaders in and out of the classroom.”
“I am proud to have been selected into the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame. This is such a prestigious honor that means so much to me and my family. I am grateful and I am humbled,” said Phillips.
Phillips left Vanderbilt to serve as head women’s basketball coach at Division III Fisk University, taking that team to successful seasons and titles. She became the head women’s basketball coach at TSU in 1989, taking over a team that had won a total of eight games in three years. She guided the 1993-94 squad to the program’s first-ever Ohio Valley Conference regular season crown, the OVC tournament championship, and the team’s first appearance ever in the NCAA tournament.
Phillips and her staff enjoyed their most successful season in 1994-95 as the Lady Tigers (22-7, 12-4 OVC) shared the regular season title. TSU claimed its second consecutive tournament title and a trip to the NCAA tournament. She has been invited twice to serve as an assistant coach for USA Basketball (1995 and 1999) and was invited to serve as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Festival North Squad. She was named USA Today National Coach of the Year in 1990 and was a three-time OVC Coach of the Year selection.
Throughout her career, Phillips has reached great heights. She has the distinction of being the first woman ever to coach an NCAA Division I men’s basketball team, en route to being named one of the 101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports by Sports Illustrated in 2003. During the 2014 Women’s Final Four, she was named as a one of 10 Legends in Women’s Basketball in Tennessee.
Since becoming TSU’s athletics director in 2002, Phillips has increased sponsorships, gained OVC recognition for scholar athletes, and overseen numerous facilities projects. TSU has won conference and tournament championships in women’s basketball, volleyball, and women’s track, as well as a PGA Minority National Championship in men’s golf.
“Teresa is so well-respected by all of her peers in the OVC not only because of her many accomplishments as a coach and administrator but because of the remarkable person she is. She is the consummate professional who makes us all better due to her heart-felt commitment to student-athletes. I am proud to count her as a dear friend,” Beth DeBuche, OVC Commissioner
Phillips has been appointed to several boards and committees, including: NCAA Basketball Rules, NCAA Championship Cabinet, NCAA Administrative Cabinet, the NCAA HBCU Advisory Board, the NCAA W. Basketball Selection Committee, Fellowship of Christian Athletes Board, Boys & Girls Club Board, the Vanderbilt Alumni Advisory Board, the Nashville Final Four Executive Board, the Girls Preparatory School Alumni Board, the Nashville Dinner of Champions Committee, and the Executive Board of the Nashville Sports Council.
She has held memberships in several organizations, including the Black Coaches Association, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
In 2016 Phillips received the prestigious TSU Women of Legend & Merit Award and the
prestigious Betty Probasco Lifetime Achievement Award. A native of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., she is an inaugural member of the Girls Preparatory School Sports Hall of Fame and the Lookout Mountain Sports Hall of Fame.
Phillips’ brother, Reuben Lawrence, said, “The family is so proud of Teresa. To us, she has always been special.”