Culture

Legendary Basketball Coach Pat Summitt Known for Her Faith, Hard Work, and Character

Tennessee Volunteers head coach Pat Summit holds aloft one of the nets from Kemper Arena. NCAA WOMEN

One of the foremost names in college sports — especially in the South — has lost her battle with Alzheimer’s. Pat Summitt, who spent an astounding 38 years coaching women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee, was 64.

Summitt grew up in Clarksville, Tennessee, and she fell in love with basketball early. Her family moved to Henrietta, the next town over, so that she could play basketball in high school. She played college hoops at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she received All-American honors. In 1976, she played on the silver medal-winning team at the Montreal Olympics, and eight years later she coached the gold medal-winning team in Los Angeles.

In 1974, Summitt began as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee at what would be the start of a stunning 38-year coaching career. In all those seasons, her teams did not have a losing record, and she racked up some impressive stats:

  • 8 national titles
  • 1,098 wins
  • 16 SEC championships
  • 16 SEC tournament championships
  • 112 NCAA tournament wins
  • 36 30-win seasons
  • 45 former players who became coaches

And those stats just scratch the surface. Perhaps most impressive was that Summitt coached her entire career at the University of Tennessee.

Summitt gained a reputation for her toughness and work ethic. She once famously spilled the secret to her success when she said, “Here’s how I’m going to beat you. I’m going to outwork you. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.”

The only thing that could stop Pat Summitt was Alzheimer’s disease. She received a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2011, but she finished coaching the 2011-12 season before she retired and handpicked her successor, Holly Warlick. President Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the same year she received ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

She died in an assisted living facility in Knoxville on June 28. Her son, Tyler Summitt, himself a former coach, paid tribute to his mom when he wrote:

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.

For 64 years, my mother first built her life upon a strong relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Her foundation was also built upon love of her family and of her players, and love of the fundamentals of hard work which reflected her philosophy that ‘you win in life with people’.

She was the fourth of five children – Tommy, Charles, Kenneth and Linda – born to Richard and Hazel Head on June 14, 1952, in Clarksville, Tenn. Her tireless work ethic and her love of the game of basketball were created during the time she spent growing up on the family farm.

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.

We will all miss her immensely.

Warlick said, “She was driven to perfection and always remained true to her standards. That meant doing things the right way, no matter what. In my eyes, there’s never been anyone better than Pat Summitt.”

President Obama said, “Her legacy, however, is measured much more by the generations of young women and men who admired Pat’s intense competitiveness and character, and as a result found in themselves the confidence to practice hard, play harder, and live with courage on and off the court.”

Summitt’s amazing legacy of excellence and tenacity will live on in the hearts and minds of those who loved her and supported her. The Pat Summitt Foundation has partnered with the University of Tennessee to establish the Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic in Knoxville. To donate and help in the fight against Alzheimer’s, visit patsummit.org/donate.