Her coaching record speaks for itself: eight national titles, seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year, 1,098 career wins — the most ever for a college basketball coach. Limiting Summitt’s legacy to mere numbers and records, however, would be unjust.
Sports icon and women’s basketball pioneer Pat Summitt passed away Tuesday at age 64, just five years after being diagnosed with early onset dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s. Her influence truly transcended sports and her impact will withstand the test of time.
Need proof? While earning $250 a month in the mid-1970s, Summitt personally loaded her players’ uniforms into a washing machine after each game because she knew if she didn’t do it, no one else would.
She also drove the Tennessee team van from game to game. Money was so tight that one night, she and her players slept in sleeping bags on the other team’s gym floor.
“As Pat once said in recalling her achievements, ‘What I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.'” President Obama said of Summitt’s death.
Therein lies Summitt’s greatest legacy: the special bond with her players that enabled Summitt to become the winningest coach in college basketball history.
“I remember every player — every single one — who wore the Tennessee orange, a shade that our rivals hate,” Summitt said in her 2013 book with Sally Jenkins, Sum it Up: A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. “I remember how many of them fought for a better life for themselves. I just met them halfway.”
And she meant it. The 100% graduation rate among her players who completed their athletic eligibility might be the most telling among all the victories Summitt accumulated during her Hall-of-Fame career.
Few said it as well as Holly Warlick, Summitt’s successor and mentee.
“We had such a strong connection, we shared so much outside of basketball.”
“The impact Pat has had on my life has been profound … It simply amazes me the impact Pat has made on so many people’s lives, people Pat didn’t even know. It’s God’s gift to her.”
More from Warlick, a former player and assistant coach for Summitt.
“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.”
Then there’s Tyler Summitt, son and women’s basketball coach:
“She has changed the way I looked at life, and the way all her players have. She’s not a person who just talks the talk, she walks the walk as well. She does exactly what she says. Through this disease, through Alzheimer’s, she’s been exactly what she’s lived her entire life [like], and that’s strong.”
Candace Parker, another former player, remembered Summitt:
“Nobody walked off a college basketball court victorious more times than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. For four decades, she outworked her rivals, made winning an attitude, loved her players like family, and became a role model to millions of Americans, including our two daughters. Her unparalleled success includes never recording a losing season in 38 years of coaching, but also, and more importantly, a 100 percent graduation rate among her players who completed their athletic eligibility.
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. As Pat once said in recalling her achievements, ‘What I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.'”
President Barack Obama
Every girl and every woman who plays sports, and there are millions of them in this country, owes Pat Summitt one thing today:
A thank you.
Well before Title IX was taken seriously, well before there were record ratings for women’s sports on TV, well before there was the dominance of the U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team or the sold-out crowds at the NCAA Women’s Final Four or the glorious rivalry of Tennessee-UConn, there was Pat Summitt.
Christine Brennan, USA TODAY Sports columnist.
“She put women’s basketball on the map, much in the same way John Wooden is considered the leader of the men’s basketball community with what he did at UCLA. Pat really was the trailblazer in everything that we see today … Emphasizing the importance of the media, the importance of high-character student-athletes, the importance of putting women in position to succeed in life, not just in sports.
Stephanie White, Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach.
“We was goofing around at Pat was watching. She got fed up and threw the ball and everyone stopped. She said, ‘Run sprints, and run them fast.’”The players looked at Pearl, hoping he’d step in. But he didn’t.
“He looked back at us and walked away and sat down, and Pat ran the rest of practice,” Williams wrote. “I remember I threw up twice that day.”
Williams added that he and the men’s team always respected Summitt — even before she made them run.
“The amount of respect we had for her was unmatched, and the lives she created for thousands will never go unnoticed,” he wrote. “Thanks for everything, Pat.”
Brian Williams, former Tennessee men’s basketball player (via 247Sports).
“Pat Summit is the first lady of women’s basketball and she was more than a basketball coach. She’s been a mother to so many people. She’s been a mentor and I don’t even know that I can put into words what she’s meant to me. She gave so much of herself. She is the reason the women’s game is where it is today. It had to have somebody that stood up for the game and for women. She was a guardian of our game and she was a guardian for women to be able set the bar and break a lot of glass ceilings.”
Carolyn Peck, Vanderbilt assistant women’s basketball coach and former Tennessee assistant coach under Summitt.
“Everybody wants to talk about Geno Auriemma because he’s had a lot of success, but he’s had his success because of Pat Summit. Basically, the early rivalry between UConn and UT is what made him and brought attention to him. Because of Pat, at that point, everybody started to look at the women’s game a little differently. The shoe companies — Nike, Addidas, of course you didn’t have Under Armour at the time — got on board around that time. Television started paying more and more attention. More emphasis was placed on the game because of what Pat Summit had done.”
Rick Insell, Middle Tennessee State women’s basketball coach.
I first met Pat Summitt when I was in my 2nd year as an assistant coach. I left Disney’s massive Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando during one of their signature flash floods. Not yet accustomed to the realities of a different rental car every day, I left the facility with literally no idea of the whereabouts (or color) of the rental car I had parked over 12 hours earlier when I arrived for the morning’s first game. Pat Summitt was trailing me.
“Don’t you have an umbrella?”
I could barely speak. “An umbrella seems like a smart item to pack next time.”
“Come here. Get under here with me.”
I’ll remember those words for forever.
So there I went, walking out to the parking lot huddled under an umbrella with Pat Summitt.
Courtney Banghart, Princeton women’s basketball coach.