Friday, 08 July 2016 11:40

Pat Summitt - The Game She Couldn’t Win!

When Pat Summitt became head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols in 1974, at the age of 22 – barely older than some of her players – the NCAA did not even formally recognize women’s basketball. Summitt had to drive the team van to road games herself. In her 38 years at Tennessee, Summitt won eight national titles and 1,098 games – the most by any Division 1 basketball coach, male or female. Her teams made an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The passing of Pat Summitt came five years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 64. Summitt battled the disease with “fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced,” her son, Tyler Summitt, said. “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,” Tyler Summitt said. The news of her disease broke in 2011, Summitt sitting alongside her son, Tyler, talking about taking on the biggest fight of her life. Summitt was larger than life, an unprecedented icon in the sport of college basketball – she accomplished just about everything she set out to do. If just for a moment, she seemed capable of conquering a new opponent, even one that doesn’t play fair. I took an interest in Summitt basketball in 1999, when I took over the girls’ basketball program at Saratoga Springs High School. During that time people compared her to Bobby Knight, and called her the Bobby Knight of women’s basketball. I researched her background and knowledge, and did not see her as a female Coach Knight. She was her own person and despite her critics, labels and comparisons, she had a vast knowledge of the game. The old cliché that’s used over and over for woman who have worn a path into the so called “man’s world,” is that Pat Summitt broke the “glass ceiling.” When she got into coaching, it was an era that became a new beginning for women in sports, “Title IX” came into effect in 1972, when the ladies got equal consideration with and for having “legitimate” teams in sports at both the scholastic and college levels. As noted earlier, Summitt became the women’s head basketball coach at Tennessee in 1974, so her career fell into a perfect time for women’s basketball. It was fate. Little is known about her estranged husband, R.B. Summitt, they divorced in 2008, after 27 years of marriage. Pat Summitt filed for divorce in August 2007, a week before their 27th wedding anniversary. The couple had been separated since March of that year and they finalized their divorce on April 28, 2008, according to USA Today. At the time of the divorce, their son Tyler was 17 years old and custody wasn’t an issue. He was already living with his mother. R.B. Summitt was also a graduate of Tennessee and began his career at Sevier County Bank in 1978. Prior to that, he worked for Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions for four years straight out of college, according to his LinkedIn profile. During his time at Sevier County Bank, he served multiple positions including president, and remained on the board of directors after his retirement. Their only child, son Tyler, born on September 21, 1990, grew up in the gym and on the road with his mother, and later became a student assistant coach for her at UT. He got his first official assistant coaching job for the women’s team at Marquette University before taking the head-coaching job at Louisiana Tech. Patricia Summitt’s loyalty to the University of Tennessee is likened to Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse connection. A rare marriage in these times. In the modern era of college basketball, coaches come and go, but there are few like Summitt and Boeheim. Mike Krzyzewski has been at Duke for 36 years, but he did not play for Duke (West Point) like Summitt did at UT and Boeheim at Syracuse. There is another consideration about Pat Summitt, with women’s teams; there are a fair amount of male coaches in the profession. Summitt very successfully butted heads with her male counterparts, something I think is noteworthy. Her fame will always be an important part of her legacy, and women’s basketball, but more than anything her accomplishments are inspiring, her career will always be a signature for young women who want to coach. My mentioning of her private life is an important asterisk for what all coaches deal with, it’s more than just the game and, or the team, it’s part of the life of a mentor. A balance that can sometimes get lopsided and learning to keep it balanced might be one of the biggest challenges for any coach. The fans and those who desire to become coaches sometimes don’t see the whole picture. People like Pat Summitt, who played and coached, are wired to take things as they come and then deal with it the best they know how. Sometimes a coach’s family and personal life could become collateral damage and those like the late Patricia Summitt did, through athletics, understood that sometimes you can’t win but you must move on and prepare for the next game. That surely was part of the life of an American icon- the winningest college basketball coach in the history of the game. Patricia “Head” Summitt has paved a legacy that will live forever!
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