It is a sad day for basketball lovers everywhere as one of the greatest coaches to ever grace the sport is stepping down after a remarkable 38 year career. That coach, Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, is truly a legend and one of the finest individuals to ever be associated with athletics. She is also one of the most influential and inspirational people to ever be involved in women’s sport, and her impact in the rise of women’s basketball and women’s athletics in general is something that cannot be taken lightly. Plus, she was a mastermind on the court, as her 1098 career wins, 8 national championships, and a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics attest to. Unfortunately for Summitt, the University and Tennessee and for the basketball world in May 2011 she received a diagnosis from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota that would change her life forever. She had “mild” but distinct signs of “early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type”.
The coach who has won more games than any other college coach ever (men’s or women’s) did exactly what anyone who has followed her career would expect her to do: fight on. After weeks of denial, Summitt finally accepted that she had to face this challenge and new chapter in her life, and with the blessing of her university she continued on as head coach of the Lady Vols. After finding out the challenges facing Summitt the Vols Athletic Director Joan Cronan said “Life is unknown and none of us have a crystal ball. But I do have a record to go on. I know what Pat stands for: excellence, strength, honesty and courage”. What more could you need from a head coach? Those leadership qualities are what help make Summitt such a fantastic coach and even better person.
Today, Coach Summitt took the next step in her career and in her life. She stepped down as head coach of the Lady Vols, but will still remain a key part of the program. She now has the title “head coach emeritus” and will continue to report to the athletic director while helping her promoted longtime assistant Holly Warlick with the team. Coach Summitt will continue to be a mentor and teach life skills to the women who come through the Tennessee basketball program and will also continue her role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer’s through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.
Former Florida State University athletic director and current Tennessee vice-chancellor and athletic director Dave Hart put it best, calling Summitt an “inspiration to everyone”. He also said “”It is extremely difficult to adequately express what Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, the sport of basketball, and the growth of women’s athletics nationally. She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting. Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt”.
And Mr. Hart is right, there will never be another Pat Summitt. Her impact reaches far beyond mere wins and losses. Every Lady Vol player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated and 74 of Summitt’s former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are currently among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball. She also brought respectability to women’s athletics and is a key player in the rise of women’s sports. Now her mission is to raise awareness on dementia, Alzheimer’s and other debilitating brain diseases. That cause could not have received a better spokesperson.