Pat Summitt, one of the great coaches in history regardless of sport, era or gender, died Tuesday morning after a brave fight against Alzheimer’s disease. She was 64.
Summit coached the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program for 38 seasons and led the Vols to eight national titles and 32 SEC championships. Only former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden won more national titles. She retired from the game after the 2011-12 season with the most wins to her credit, 1,098, of any men’s or women’s coach in NCAA Division I history.
In nearly four decades of coaching and with nearly 50 percent of her team’s games coming against ranked opponents, she lost only 208 times. She went 440-168 against ranked opponents.
Summit revealed in August 2011 she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type. She remained at the school in a coaching capacity through the end of the 2011-12 season when the Vols fell just short of once again reaching the Final Four by losing to Baylor in an Elite Eight game.
Summitt produced countless pro players and numerous assistant coaches who went on to lead programs of their own as head coaches. She also coached the U.S. women’s national team to the gold medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics. She was a seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year and earned the SEC Coach of the Year award eight times.
It’s hard to imagine even a young person, even one with Summitt’s grit, competitiveness and mastery of the game, being given a chance to coach a major college program at the tender age of 22 these days. It wasn’t such a stretch in 1974 when women’s college athletics were in their infancy. She began coaching just two years after the passage of Title IX and before women’s basketball was an officially sanctioned NCAA sport.
“I’d never coached a day in my life,” she told the New York Times in 2009. “I had no idea what was going to happen to this program.”
Summitt was known for her impassioned and combustible demeanor in directing her players on the sideline. She is not only regarded as one of the finest coaches in history, she is also known for running a program with the highest ethical principles and holding her players to strong standards in the classroom. She was honored by President Barack Obama in 2012 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a U.S. citizen can earn.
She was born June 14, 1952, in Clarksville, Tenn., and was one of five children to the late-Richard and Hazel Head. She is survived by her son, Tyler, and siblings Tommy, Charles, Kenneth and Linda.
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