When I heard the news this weekend that legendary Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt was declining and likely didn’t have much time left, I was hit with a sudden gut punch of sadness. For decades I watched Coach Summitt pace the sidelines with her intense stare and unbreakable passion of the game of basketball. She wanted to win every game, every time, with no exception and worked her butt off to achieve perfection.
As a UConn fan, I was conditioned to hate the hideous orange of the Tennessee Lady Vols. UConn/Tennessee was one of the greatest rivalries in sports throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s and without a doubt the greatest rivalry in women’s college basketball history. When Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt faced off, they were must-watch matchups on national TV at a time when very little women’s college basketball was on national TV. They were games you planned your schedule around.
When Coach Summitt announced in August of 2011 that she had early onset Alzheimer’s disease, it was devastating. Such a brilliant and sharp mind disappearing one day at a time. She was a revolutionary in the game of women’s college basketball, taking over the Tennessee program at age 22 when the NCAA didn’t even formally recognize women’s basketball. She had to drive the team van to road games when she began coaching, but then forced the national conversation with her success. She was the person to put women’s college basketball on the map.
Our sport is synonymous with Pat Summitt, and Pat Summitt is synonymous with women’s basketball. We don’t have a long history, women’s basketball. The history before Tennessee and before Pat Summitt is checkered. There wasn’t a lot of media attention. There wasn’t a lot of interest in the game. There wasn’t a lot of support from universities.
During our short history, there was one person for a long time. Nobody else was even in that category. There was Pat Summitt. Nobody else. Other people took their turn at getting their 15 minutes of fame, but when people talked about women’s basketball in America, it was Pat Summitt and Tennessee. When was the last time a women’s team coach got on the cover of Time magazine? It just doesn’t happen. –UConn head coach Geno Auriemma
Coach Summitt’s list of achievements is frankly longer than most all other division 1 coaches combined. Just for some context, here are a sampling of Coach Summitt’s statistical achievements over her 38-year career:
- 1,098 wins – Most by any division 1 basketball coach in history
- .841 winning percentage as a coach at Tennessee
- 8 National Championships (87, 89, 91, 96, 97, 98, 07 and 08)
- 16 SEC Regular Season Championships (80, 85, 90, 93, 94, 95, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, 07, 10, 11)
- 16 SEC Tournament Championships (80, 85, 88, 89, 92, 94, 96, 98, 99, 00, 05, 06, 08, 10, 11, 12)
- 7-time NCAA Coach of the Year (83, 87, 89, 94, 95, 98, 04)
- 8-time SEC Coach of the Year (93, 95, 98, 01, 03, 04, 07, 11)
- Naismith Coach of the 20th Century
- 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient
- Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000
- 31 Consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament
- Won an Olympic Gold Medal as Head Coach of the 1984 US women’s basketball team
As impressive as they are, Coach Summitt was a lot more than just her statistics. She was a devoted mother to her son, Tyler, and treated all of the players that passed through her doors as family. She was as connected to a community as any coach in history, being born and raised in Tennessee and attending the University of Tennessee at Martin before her career in coaching.
She’ll be remembered as the all-time winningest D-1 basketball coach in NCAA history, but she was more than a coach to so many — she was a hero and a mentor, especially to me, her family, her friends, her Tennessee Lady Volunteer staff and the 161 Lady Vol student-athletes she coached during her 38-year tenure. -Pat Summit’s son Tyler Summitt
The saddest piece of Coach Summitt’s passing is that my 2-year old daughter will not get the opportunity to watch such a fierce and brilliant female role-model pace the sidelines. This is not to take away from all the great accomplished men and women who will be amazing role-models for her to look up to, but Coach Summitt was a one-of-a-kind special person. As much as I can’t stand the University of Tennessee sports programs and passionately rooted against them for decades (and still do), I always respected the hell out of Pat Summitt. My thoughts and prayers are with Pat Summitt’s family during this incredibly difficult time.