For the first time since 1975, Pat Summitt isn’t part of the women’s college basketball scene.
Summitt, whose 1,098 victories are the most in Division I by any coach — male or female — and who racked up eight national championships at Tennessee, retired after last season at age 59 after the revelation that she had early-onset dementia. Her final game was a regional final loss to Baylor, a matchup that could repeat in the same round Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
The Advocate spoke with four of Summitt’s friends and colleagues: LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, who played for the Lady Vols and was a Tennessee assistant for six seasons; former Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore, whose team was the Lady Vols’ archrival for many years; Sue Donahoe, the former NCAA vice president for women’s basketball; and Mel Greenberg, a longtime women’s basketball writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Here’s what they had to say about Summitt’s place in the history of the game and how much her presence is missed:
Caldwell: ‘Pat is a movement in women’s basketball’
I’ve seen Pat Summitt from all angles. Without her, I wouldn’t be half the coach or half the person I am today.
From the first day you walk onto campus, she instills in you that, at Tennessee, you play for championships. She fosters that mentality every day with an atmosphere of extremely competitive practices that usually were even harder than our games.
She demands excellence, and she will not allow you to cut corners. That’s because she knows exactly how to design her practices to get you to the championship game and to prepare you for the situation where your number might be called.
That’s why we won the 1991 championship game in New Orleans. Our best player, Daedra Charles, fouled out, and we still beat Virginia in overtime with two freshmen (I was one), two sophomores and a junior.
When I was an assistant coach, she’d do anything and everything to help you reach your goals. That went for even practice players and managers.
I don’t know how much of her style I’ve emulated; our players say I have a little bit of Pat’s stare, but I think it’s different. But I had the opportunity to learn from the best there is.
Her best advice to me was that whatever success you have comes because of the work you put into it, especially those things you do when no one else is watching.
I’ve also gotten to see another side of Pat — as a mother, a wife and a daughter. That’s her softer side.
Pat is a movement in women’s basketball. She’s given so much to the game. It’s a remarkable and will be her legacy. You can’t compare her to anybody else, and there will never be another Pat Summitt.
Barmore: ‘I really miss seeing Pat coach her team’
Not having Pat on the sideline this year didn’t create just a little void. It’s a big old gigantic hole that she’s left behind.
I really miss seeing Pat coach her team, and I miss what she brings to the entire game. It’s hard to grasp she’s not coaching any more.
In the early years, I was afraid to talk to any of the women coaches. But there were two people who treated me good from the start — Sue Gunter and Pat Summitt.
We were fierce competitors, of course. We’d fight and claw at each other every time.
You’ve heard that Muhammad Ali needed Joe Frazier. Well, there would have been no Lady Techsters without Tennessee — at least not at the level we attained. But once the game was over, we were true friends again.
Pat set herself apart from most coaches in her willingness to take the game and elevate it in all kinds of ways, but especially by helping young coaches.
We beat Tennessee something like 11 of the first 12 times we played. And even though Pat was still in her 20s, she taught me how to be gracious in defeat, which is something that can be hard to do when you don’t lose very often.
She also taught me how to relax. We take our grandkids to Rosemary Beach in Florida every summer. We started doing that when Pat let me use her place there.
When I heard that Pat was stepping down and why, it dropped me to my knees. I hope she lives a long life and, knowing what a strong woman she is, I’m confident she’s doing the best she can.
Pat’s been honored in a lot of ways. But if they ever build a statue of her in Knoxville, they should built it tall.
Donahoe: ‘Pat has given so much to the game’
There’s a reason why the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is in Knoxville.
And that’s Pat Summitt.
Pat has given so much to the game. We owe her so much.
Take the 1995 game at Connecticut. She didn’t have to go there, but she did because she knew how important the exposure was. It put UConn on the map and brought the game to a wider audience.
There were so many other ways you would talk about her influence, friendship, mentorship and leadership.
She spent so much time unselfishly giving her time and energy throughout her career. Not everybody in our profession is like that.
She was always great working with the NCAA office. There were four or five people the women’s basketball committee would run ideas by just to know what they thought about it. Pat was nearly always one of those persons.
Even if it might not necessarily be the best thing for Tennessee, she was always thinking about the good of the game. She was never insecure about how things might work out and, if we needed help with just about anything, she’d do it.
That’s not to say we didn’t butt heads from time to time. You can’t go through 12 years of working with the NCAA without doing that. But there’s a room at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis with her name on it.
Even though sometimes there were difficult decisions being made, there always was mutual respect where Pat was concerned.
It’s a shame that she had to step down long before she was ready. I always thought she was indestructible.
We’ve really lost something not having Pat active on the sideline any more. She’s set the bar, and the standard she set is very, very high.
Greenberg: ‘Pat made our jobs easier’
Pat Summitt made our jobs better. It’s as simple as that.
When you needed one coach to talk to, you got Pat. And that was usually all you needed.
More than that, Pat and Tennessee took the game out of the Immaculata and Delta State era when the coaches were still teaching class into one where major schools got serious about women’s basketball and, by extension, other sports.
Tennessee was the first major school to fully support women’s sports. And when the NCAA came along to add women’s championships, the SEC was in position to be a major force in every one of them.
That was because they embraced the commitment Tennessee had made in basketball. They said, if we want to be good, we need to be doing whatever Tennessee was doing.
That’s why Pat Summitt is such a benchmark figure.
And like I said, Pat made our jobs easier. She understands what we do, and she also understood the importance of growing the game.
Even later on, she was there for us. In 1998 in Kansas City, Tennessee was playing Louisiana Tech in the championship game. Our (U.S. Basketball Writers Association) meeting was that morning, and she was our national Coach of the Year.
I was emceeing our meetings when, all of a sudden, in walks Pat. We never expected to see her that day. I was speechless.
When I went into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, I had about 20 family members come down to Knoxville. I asked Pat if she knew a good place we could have a reception the night before, and she threw one for me at her house.
That year, I also found out that Pat gave all of her incoming players a quiz about the history of the game — and that I was one of the answers.
How cool was that?
Copyright © 2015, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved