To the Summitt and Beyond

Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of Women’s Basketball at the University of Tennessee with the 1,000 yard death stare, passed away yesterday, aged 64.

I really don’t have an emotional attachment to the games I work for television. The level of play on the field can be great or be awful, it can be regular season or a championship game, it makes no difference. You do the work and you forget about it.

I cannot, however, forget the last time I saw Pat Summitt. It was April 18, 2012 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. She had announced the previous season that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but vowed to keep on coaching as long as she could.

The woman with the thousand yard death stare, the woman who would yell at her team at halftime when they were leading by double-digits, the woman who defined the game of women’s basketball was sitting quietly on the bench while her assistant, Holly Warlick, desperately and frantically worked the sidelines in an effort to find a way to stop Brittney Griner and the Baylor Bears. The look of intensity had been replaced by a vacancy in the eyes. It was the end and she knew it. Everyone in the arena knew it. It was certainly not the ending she would have wrote for herself.

Since winning her last NCAA title, Summitt’s life hasn’t exactly been a fairy tale. Her 27-year marriage crumbled, her health declined and her son, Tyler, resigned in disgrace from the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech.

But that’s not what she’ll be remembered for. The accomplishments are well documented. If you want a list of those you can find them printed and transmitted in thousands of places. For me, her legacy is found in the team’s logo.

Earlier this year the University of Tennessee announced that they would be abandoning the “Lady Vols” name for their women’s sports programs in favor of the unisex “Tennessee Volunteers.” They said it wasn’t political (yeah, right), just a streamlining of the “branding.” Well, they abandoned it for everything but the women’s basketball team because, in Pat Summitt’s world, you could still be a lady and a champion.

May the Lady Vols stand on the Summitt forever.

There are 23 comments.

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  1. MLH Inactive

    EJ, what was the cause of death?

    • #1
  2. EJHill Podcaster

    MLH: EJ, what was the cause of death?

    Complications of the dementia. She was forced into assisted living this year.

    • #2
  3. JimGoneWild Coolidge

    Hmmm? Sounds like a lousy ending to a good life. Sometimes things just suck.

    I’ll drink to her on Friday.


    • #3
  4. DocJay Inactive

    A great person.   What a legend! A credit to sports and humanity.

    Dementia sucks and I’m glad she found a fast way out however it happened and I mean however it happened.   I always look for ways to let nature do someone in when they get to this point.  Pneumonia?  Don’t treat it.Just some morphine for breathing.    Kidney infection?  Treat the pain and let sepsis come.

    • #4
  5. PHenry Member

    DocJay: I always look for ways to let nature do someone in when they get to this point.

    I was just discussing end of life care issues with my wife last week, and said something very similar- that once death is inevitable, and life is reduced to warding off death hour by hour while bedridden and suffering maybe it is best to just let nature take its course.  In other words, as you say, stop treatment and just make it as painless as possible.

    She was a bit aghast, as if I was suggesting suicide or euthanasia.  But that isn’t the same as just letting things take their natural course, in my mind…

    • #5
  6. MLH Inactive

    DocJay:A great person. What a legend! A credit to sports and humanity.

    Dementia sucks and I’m glad she found a fast way out however it happened and I mean however it happened. I always look for ways to let nature do someone in when they get to this point. Pneumonia? Don’t treat it.Just some morphine for breathing. Kidney infection? Treat the pain and let sepsis come.

    I guess that I didn’t have to hold my thought of: what short ride on the dementia train. Lucky for her.

    • #6
  7. PJS Coolidge

    Rest in peace Coach Pat, from a long-time and very loyal UConn women’s basketball fan.  The rivalry was intense, and sometimes downright nasty, but in the end Coach Kay Yow got them to bury the hatchet.  Our coach, Geno Auriemma, has said some very nice things in the last few days.  There will never be another Coach Pat, and no one will ever rival UConn like Pat did.

    • #7
  8. PHCheese Inactive

    My mother had Alzheimer’s for ten years.  It was very terrible. She had the constitution of a Sherman Tank. She laid gasping for two weeks before she died. Pat was lucky.

    • #8
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    A fine reminder of a significant life, EJ. Thanks.

    • #9
  10. MJBubba Inactive

    One of my fellow Elders, Jay E., posted this:

    I met Pat Summit several times. She was charming. She was knowledgeable. She was confident. I watched her coach many times. She was tough on her team. But she loved her players and she stood up for them on the court. I learned from all of this. But it was something that I read, attributed to her, that changed the way I coached.
    Many of you know that I coached young girls in softball for several years. Many of these girls, 8-14 years old, were quite athletic. Many were quite competitive. All of them are adorable. But none of them reacted to coaching the way boys would react. And for many years I struggled with that. How is a dad supposed to coach girls effectively?
    And then I read this quote from Pat Summit. “Boys have to play hard to feel good. Girls have to feel good to play hard.” It was enlightening! Pat Summit changed the way I coached girls softball! I learned to hold these girls accountable for their actions and their effort. But I tried to make sure that they always had fun. In games and in practice.
    I don’t think these girls or their parents ever knew the effect that this quote had on me. But I like to think that Pat Summit had an effect on these girls, through me.
    Pat Summit was bigger than her own sport. She was and is, a legend.

    • #10
  11. EJHill Podcaster

    I think Geno Auriemma got it right today when he said, “Many people have had the opportunity to coach the game of basketball, few had the opportunity to define it.”

    • #11
  12. MJBubba Inactive

    The University of Tennessee gave the head coaching job to Coach Summit when she was a graduate student.  That lets you know that the Athletic Department, and the Administration, just did not care about womens’ basketball.  The whole Southeastern Conference, and most of American universities, were all thinking that womens’ sports was a novelty that would go away when the country figured out how expensive it was.

    Nobody took it seriously but her.   She worked her players hard back when other teams were still not taking it seriously.  She was fierce from the beginning.

    There was a guy on my dorm floor who was dating one of the players that first year.  We would go down to old Alumni Gym, a creaky old rattletrap, and join about a hundred fans, mostly family and boyfriends of players.  The games were entertaining; we saw some good basketball, and had some fun.

    The thing is, the Lady Vols started winning games.   They kept winning games, because they wanted to win.  Winning gets attention, and Coach Summitt was able to do some fine recruiting even with almost zero budget.  Her teams wanted to win because they had to win to please Coach Summitt.

    Then, after a while, the University discovered that they liked winning.

    • #12
  13. MJBubba Inactive

    We talked about her early on in her career.   Because her players liked her, even though she was just a little off-the-scale Type A, we wanted her to do well.   We quit calling her “Coach Pat” and started calling her “Coach Summit,” because she was so young that she needed that show of respect.

    The following year the University offered a phys ed class in lacrosse.  Back in those days, after you paid tuition for a full slate of classes, extra classes didn’t cost any more, so I took the class as a break from the grind of engineering.  It surprised me, but they had set it up as a coeducational class.  There were two Lady Vol basketball players in the class.  Those girls made us all up our game; they ran our legs off.

    Now lacrosse is a game where the main feature is that you run up and down a big field while you beat each other up with sticks.   The Lady Vols were Elbows of Steel; I learned just how competitive they were from many bruises.   Great fun.

    The Athletic Department Head walked by one of our classes one day.  He decided on the spot that the University was no longer going to offer lacrosse as a class for credit.  He had seen so much mayhem that he feared the legal risk.  It was over a decade before they taught that class again, and never as a coed class.

    • #13
  14. MJBubba Inactive

    When Coach Summit won her fifth national championship she was interviewed by some famous feminist journalist for a major womens magazine.  She was prompted to talk about how awful it was that the University spent so much money on the football program, and pointed out the differences in spending.

    She replied that she loves the men’s football program, that she liked Coach Fulmer and the staff, and she would have nothing but good things to say about them.  She pointed out that the women got to play in a fabulous gym (they had moved after she won her fourth conference championship), and they got to use great practice facilities, and none of that could have been supported from her program alone.  She said that having a winning men’s program helped her with recruiting, and it helped pay for good trainers and marketing support and provided for amenities that her fans enjoyed.  She praised the men’s program, and especially Vols football, to high heaven, to such an extent that the feminists were taken aback.

    I recall some feminist carping that she had been brainwashed.   That was hooey.   What she was, was smart.   Also, she had grown up poor, and she always exhibited an appreciation for anything good that came her way.

    • #14
  15. EJHill Podcaster

    MJBubba: She said that having a winning men’s program helped her with recruiting, and it helped pay for good trainers and marketing support and provided for amenities that her fans enjoyed.

    I produced telecasts of a women’s basketball program at a major D-I school for years. The coach was a transplant from the SEC and everybody had high hopes. We used to show a lot of Sunday games with 1 o’clock starts. I had no studio support so filling halftime was a bear.

    I asked an assistant coach if we could get a player for a five minute interview at 11am for those games and I was turned down flat. I made a second appeal. “Look, if she walks out on that court and we’re not ready then that’s my fault. She can walk away. It’s five minutes two whole hours before a game!”

    The assistant looked at me and said icily, “What do the men do?”

    Without missing a beat I told her the honest truth, “They put about 13,000 more fannies in the seats than you guys do.”

    “Well, you can’t disrupt our players on game days.”

    “Hell, I not only talk to hockey players before games, they talk to us during the game.”

    Too many players and coaches in the women’s game think parity with the men has already been achieved. The ratings and attendance says otherwise.

    • #15
  16. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    The pros are no different. The LA Sparks fill seats by any means possible, and dragooning girls from the LA school system is one of the more semi-legit ones. I’ve seen the girls on these trips; they look like they’re undergoing the Ludovico treatment in “A Clockwork Orange”.

    • #16
  17. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche

    Texas Tech’s Marsha Sharp honors her friend, Pat Summitt.

    • #17
  18. danok1 Member

    EJHill: Too many players and coaches in the women’s game think parity with the men has already been achieved. The ratings and attendance says otherwise.

    Yep. When NBC pulled the plug on the XFL, the ratings for a regular season game were twice that of the WNBA championship game. I truly believe that the NBA forces ABC/ESPN to broadcast the WNBA as a condition of getting the NBA rights.

    ETA: Of course, that does not diminish the amazing work of Coach Summitt!

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    Agreed on both counts, Danok1. It’s amazing how some “educators” in that public school system take something exciting and important and turn it into a joyless, compulsory rote lesson in empowerment. EJ’s post and MJ’s comments in particular are the opposite: no progressive agenda at all, just sheer human admiration for what this woman could do for the lives of girls entering womanhood.

    I wonder how many outsiders would be astonished at the depth of knowledge about women’s college basketball there is among the conservative men of this site. There’s more actual Summitt history and sympathy with her goals here than you’d expect on ESPN or in The New York Times.

    Another stereotype buster.

    • #19
  20. EJHill Podcaster

    danok1: I truly believe that the NBA forces ABC/ESPN to broadcast the WNBA as a condition of getting the NBA rights.

    It’s not just your belief, it’s well documented. The network’s deal that just expired at the end of this season was tied to the WNBA. The current contract that begins this fall does not. The deal that the WNBA signed with ESPN is its first stand alone deal.

    When the WNBA was born all of the NBA local rights holders/teams were ordered to get a minimum of one third of their games on regional cable.

    The women’s basketball tournament is tied to an overall championships package that includes baseball, volleyball, the Frozen Four and others.

    • #20
  21. Blondie Thatcher

    “May the Lady Vols stand on the Summitt forever.”

    Agreed. I’d like to think she and Coach Yow are having a great conversation about it all. So glad she didn’t linger. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease.

    • #21
  22. MJBubba Inactive

    Here is the best coverage of Coach Pat Head Summitt’s passing.  This is media criticism from the point of view of religious issue coverage.

    “I guess I can understand leaving this amazing woman’s faith out of the national coverage. Maybe she was too important, and symbolic, to be a born-again Christian.”

    “When she was offered a job coaching the men at Tennessee, she said, “Why is that considered a step up?””

    Really good stuff.

    • #22
  23. MJBubba Inactive

    They held a big memorial rally.   There were several speakers, but the one that broke up while speaking was Peyton Manning.   This link has been going around the Tennessee blogosphere:

    Peyton M.:

    “Two weeks ago, at Pat’s funeral, Chamique Holdsclaw and I caught up with each other again, and she, like so many of Pat’s former players, stayed in close contact with her. Chamique told me that even as Pat’s memory continued to fade, if Pat saw one of my games or commercials on TV, she pointed at the screen and said, ‘That’s my friend. He comes to visit me. There goes my friend.’”

    • #23

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