A coach is defined as an athletic instructor or trainer. Good coaches can do that in the arena of sports and become successful. Great coaches can do that on and off the field of play and become successful. Legendary coaches can influence a culture and become successful. The latter is definitely the case of Pat Summitt.
Patricia Sue Head Summitt was born June 14, 1952 in Clarksville, TN. She was the fourth of five children in the family. She grew up on a farm learning to bail hay and chop tobacco. She would play basketball with her three older brothers and kids in the neighborhood. Since she was the only girl that played, it toughened her up. After high school she attended the University of Tennessee-Martin where she played basketball. She led the team to two national championship tournaments before graduating in 1974. In the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, she was the co-captain of the U.S. women’s team that earned a silver medal. As head coach she later led the 1984 U.S. Women’s Olympic team in Los Angeles. She became the first U.S. Olympian to win a basketball medal and coach a medal-winning team.
Summitt started as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee shortly after graduating, when she was only 22 years old. The previous coach suddenly quit, immediately thrusting her into the head coaching position in 1974. She earned $250 a month and even had to wash the player’s uniforms that were bought from donut sales the year before. She drove the team bus and once they had to sleep on mats and sleeping bags in the opposing team’s gym because they couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel.
From 1974–2012 at the University of Tennessee, Summitt never had a losing season. She won an astounding 84% of her games. She finished her career with 1,098 wins, the most of any coach male or female in Division I basketball. Her teams won 16 Southeastern Conference tournament titles. She coached them to an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. Of those 31 appearances, 18 would lead to the Final Four. She was seven times named Coach of the Year. She won eight NCAA championships, which is third most all time in all Division I basketball. Summitt was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. She was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2012. She graduated 100% of her student-athletes. She was the only woman listed in 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time in all sports, ranked 11th.
“It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of my mother, Patricia Sue Head Summitt,” her son Tyler Summitt said in a statement. “She died peacefully this morning at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most. Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced. Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease. 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.”
I remembered watching Summitt’s teams and thinking, they could really beat half the men’s teams that were playing. Little did I know how correct that statement was. She would have team practice against Tennessee men walk-on basketball players. She was a fierce competitor and her team was the embodiment of that example. They weren’t always the best or the most athletic but they were going to be the most competitive. If they didn’t she would give a scowl on her face that could register a tremble on a Richter scale. Because of her success she was asked to coach the men’s team at Tennessee and turned it down because she didn’t consider it “a step up”. Her success as a coach is beyond astounding. She has helped numerous young ladies become successful in all phases of life both on and off the court. The most successful accomplishment is the awareness she has brought to women’s sports. There will never be another Pat Summitt.