Winningest Division I Basketball Coach Dies At 64
Legendary Tennessee basketball coach Pat Head Summitt died today at the Sherill Hills retirement facility in Knoxville. Summitt, 64, won 1,098 games, 32 SEC titles, and eight national championships in her storied 38-year career. She had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type’, in August, 2011. Summitt coached another year before stepping down after the 2012 season.
There will be many articles over the next few days detailing the successful career this Clarksville, Tennessee native had as the face of women’s collegiate basketball. Every
Summitt’s Lady Vols were disciplined and well-coached
coach that attains such a level of success (she won 84% of her games) has to have talent. Not many can do it in the manner of Summitt. The recruiting, the coaching, the intensity was all top notch. Plus, the many roles she played for each of her players, filling in as a mentor, a father-figure, whatever the student-athlete needed to be successful both on and off the court.
She took the reins of the Lady Vols when she was only 22 years old. A former Tennessee-Martin player, she took a job as a Tennessee assistant coach. The head coach suddenly resigned to pursue a doctoral study program (I have not confirmed if he has been put in the Tennessee Hall of Fame for his decision), and Pat Head took over the program. The rest, as they say, is history. And what a history, what a legacy.
Long before the women’s national championship turned into the annual University of Connecticut Sweepstakes, a number of top flight universities would enjoy their climb up the podium because of a talented group, or an individual talent. After building a solid
Tennessee and Summitt Laid Foundation For Women’s Game
foundation during her first decade, Tennessee won its first two titles in 1987 and 1989, both led by forward Bridgette Gordon and guard Tonya Edwards.
Summitt’s best was yet to come as Tennessee won four times in the ‘90s. Daedra Charles led the 1991 effort, while. All-American Chamique Holdsclaw was showcased during three consecutive titles, ’96,’97,’98. Her final two championships came in 2007 and 2008.
Before Holdsclaw arrived on the Knoxville campus, this blogger was coaching an 11-12-year-old girls basketball team in Kenner. Able to name the team, I attached the “Lady Vols” moniker to our squad, and then did my best after practice presentation to explain what the name meant. Why, basically, I had chosen it. I explained a little bit of Tennessee’s basketball history, focusing on Coach Summitt, and what she expected from each of her players. Concentration, focus, commitment, a desire to work and improve skills.
Well, it apparently worked —-as well as any middle age person can reach impressionable pre-teens.
After a competitive season, our nine-member team upset the favored team twice in the
Summitt Had Affect On Kenner Girls At One Time
playoffs to win the 1994 Kenner Biddy championship. One of the victories came on a last second, half-court shot by one of the role players. She stepped up big time as our two “star” players had fouled out in the final minute just seconds earlier.
I personally thought even Pat Summitt would be pleased. I sent a newspaper clipping of our upset victories and a picture of our “Lady Vols” team to her attention at the University of Tennessee Athletic Department.
In a matter of days, I received a return package from the University of Tennessee Athletic Department. Enclosed was a personal letter to me and our two other coaches, and individually addressed letters to each of the nine players—-signed by Coach Pat Summitt. Also included was a picture of Coach Summitt kneeling at mid-court in Thompson-Boling Arena (now named Pat Summitt Court) with her then three national championship trophies. She had signed each picture.
I am not naïve enough to think this was all Coach Summitt. I worked briefly years ago in the LSU Sports Information Department. I think Coach Summitt read about our little
Rest In Peace Coach Pat Summitt
team and an on the ball athletic department employee put the necessary letters and pictures before her for signing.
To me it was more proof that Coach Pat Head Summitt demanded the best from those around her. Every little aspect was addressed. And, who knows, with Summitt forever on the lookout for talent, maybe she thought one of our girls could be a future recruit. While two of the young ladies went on to play high school basketball—quite well I might add— neither one played at the collegiate level.
Summitt’s kind gesture made three Kenner volunteer coaches happy, but more than that, it thrilled nine young girls who had their accomplishment acknowledged by a legendary coach.
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