Hard nosed, honest, tough and a leader. All the words have been used to describe Coach Pat Summitt for over 30 years. Now, just days after she announced that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, those words have never rang truer.
Coach Summitt has been the head coach of the Lady Vols at the University of Tennessee since she was 22. Yes, some of her players were older than her. She drove the van to away games. She and her players slept in locker rooms because money was tight. Some ladies even made the team based on the fact that they owned a vehicle.
For Coach Summitt, those were the tough times.
Now, Lady Vol fans and admirers of the Basketball Hall of Fame coach are calling this a hard time. Summitt refuses to, though.
“There will be no pity party,” Summitt told the Washington Post in an interview on Sunday. “I’ll be sure of that.”
Summitt says she had felt that something was off for a while, saying she “just felt something different.” Once her Lady Vols were eliminated from the Regional final of the NCAA tournament she visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. seeking any sort of explanation to why she had these lapses of memory. Those lapses were everything from forgetting what time she needed to be at the gym, losing her car keys more than once per day and forgetting what type of scheme or play to run at a certain time during a game.
“I think last year there was some adjustment in games,” Lipscomb’s women’s basketball coach Frank Bennett said. “From my perspective, there were changes. She has a great staff, though. Holly Warlick has been there several years as well as Mickie DeMoss. The program will be fine.”
All of the coaches on her staff have specific roles. Warlick and DeMoss have been there for over 20 years and Dean Lockwood for another seven more. DeMoss handles the recruiting, Coach Lockwood handles player development and brings energy to the team and DeMoss does a lot of recruiting. It’s a team effort with the players and the coaches.
Coach Summitt has been known for playing more top 25 teams on the road than any other coach in the history of both men’s and women’s basketball. It’s that kind of tenacity that has made her teams better. So good, even, that her overall record as a coach is an astounding 1,071-199. That is not a misprint. She is the winningest NCAA coach in the history of the men’s and women’s game.
Summitt does not expect to slow down. Not one bit. And UT Athletic Director Joan Cronan is stepping aside to let Coach Summitt do what she does best: teach, and lead.
“Life is an unknown and none of us has a crystal ball,” Cronan told the Post. “But I do have a record to go on. I know what Pat stands for: excellence, strength, honesty and courage.”
For Bennett, Summitt’s battle is a representation of her ability to push herself and her players further than they ever imagined, her tough coaching style, her determination and most of all, her will to win. Bennett believes that Coach Summitt will be for Alzheimer’s what Jim Valvano was to cancer. The person that represents the disease and does all that he or she can to overcome it and find a possible cure.
“I think she can generate a lot of fundraising for the campaign against this disease,” Bennett said. “I think she can do this because she is such a giving person and seeks to do the right thing.”
Former Lipscomb coach and personal friend to Summitt, Don Meyer agrees with Bennett’s assumption.
“She’ll be a spokesperson for this, I assume,” Meyer said. “It’ll be interesting to watch this play out.”
Meyer has known Summitt since she was 23 and worked a camp at Lipscomb. She was also a part of the last ever coaches’ academy held here at the university. That camp included over 450 coaches. Meyer said she has also visited him in South Dakota at Northern University.
Meyer said that one can learn the most about other coaches by watching their teams play. When he watches one of Summitt’s teams play he sees a “tough, hard team that is full of really great competitors.”
Yes, her son.
Pat Summitt, even while coaching an elite basketball team, winning gold medals and making 18 final four appearances – she’s managed to be a good mom as well.
Tyler, a red-shirt sophomore on the basketball team at the University of Tennessee has been by his mom’s side since he could hardly walk. Why change that now?
“I followed her everywhere growing up,” Tyler told the Post. “I followed her on bus rides, airplanes, in gyms and in locker rooms all over the country, and I thought she taught me everything she had. But she saved this lesson, to always come out and be open, to not be scared, to have the courage to face the truth like she’s doing.”
Tyler is not the only one saying that, either. It’s her players, both current and former, her staff, her family, her fans, sports writers across the nation. It’s hard to find someone that does not like Pat Summitt or the legacy that she has.
And I’ll tell you one thing: the legacy is not over.
“She needs to do what she needs to do. She’s going to do things for the program or the school first,” Meyer said. “It won’t be a problem, because if it’s not done perfectly, it simply won’t be done.”