Remembering legendary coach Pat Summitt

Summitt’s family announced five years ago today that she passed away from complications of early-onset dementia.
Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 12:37 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -June 28 marks the five-year anniversary of the passing of coaching legend Pat Summitt.

Summitt’s family announced five years ago today that she passed away from complications of early-onset dementia.

“It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of my mother, Patricia Sue Head Summitt,” Tyler Summit said in a statement on June 28, 2016. “She died peacefully this morning at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.”

Doctors diagnosed Summitt with Alzheimer’s disease in August 2011 during her final season at the helm of the Tennessee women’s basketball program.

Summitt’s career ended with a record of 1098-208 (.840) at Tennessee after the 2011-12 season, where she led the Lady Vols to their 16th SEC Tournament title and to the Elite 8. Over her entire coaching career, including collegiate and international play, Summitt amassed a 1,161-212 record.

About Summitt’s Life

Patricia Sue Head Summitt was born June 14, 1952, in Clarksville, Tenn. She graduated from Cheatham County High School in 1970 and attended college at the University of Tennessee-Martin where she joined the women’s basketball team.

During her playing tenure for UT-Martin, Summitt wanted to be a part of the 1976 Olympics. She gained international experience playing for the United States in 1973 at the World University Games in the Soviet Union.

During her senior year with the then Lady Pacers, Summitt suffered a near career-ending knee injury after just four games.

While she tried to get back into playing shape to try out for the U.S. Olympic team, Tennessee saw the potential in Summitt’s coaching abilities. The school hired her as an assistant coach and graduate teaching assistant after she graduated from UT-Martin in 1974.

Two weeks after accepting the offer, Helen B. Watson, the former chairperson of UT’s physical education department, notified Summitt of coach Margaret Hudson’s intention to take a sabbatical. She offered Summitt the reins to the Tennessee program, a position she held for 38 seasons.

During her first season, Summitt led the Lady Vols to a 16-8 record while attending class to earn her master’s degree and teaching physical education at the university.

While she coached and taught, she also rehabilitated her knee, eventually earning spots on the U.S. Women’s World Championship team for the Pan American Games in 1975, and the U.S. Olympic team, serving as co-captain, for the XXI Olympiad in Montreal in 1976. Summitt and her squad took home the silver medal.

Coaching Career

During her first two seasons, Summitt’s teams won 16 games each. Those were only seasons during her tenure that the Lady Vols finished with less than 20 wins.

During her tenure as head coach, Summitt led the Tennessee Lady Vols to eight NCAA National Championships, 16 SEC regular-season crowns and 16 SEC Tournament titles.

Summitt won her first national championship in 1987. Her team, also called the “Corn-fed Chickens,” arrived in Austin, Texas, with the top prize on their minds. They completed the journey with a 67-44 thumping of Louisiana Tech.

After the first championship, the Lady Vols won seven more, including three in a row from 1996 to 1998. During the 1998 championship season, Tennessee could not be beat, finishing with a perfect record of 39-0.

Success at the NCAA Tournament each year wasn’t just a goal, but an expectation. Summitt made sure her Lady Vols delivered. Under her leadership, Tennessee reached the Final Four 18 times, and only lost one first-round game.

Summitt also made a huge impact on the international stage. Eight years after playing for the U.S. Olympic team and earning silver, Summitt coached the U.S. to gold during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Summitt’s Career by the Numbers

During Summitt’s coaching career, 161 players sat next to her on the Tennessee sidelines. Of those, nearly three-fourths went on to earn collegiate or Olympic honors.

Fourteen of Summitt’s players have donned the United States’ colors in numerous Olympic games. Thirty-four players went on to the WNBA. Many of those players earned awards during their respective collegiate careers.

What might be the crown jewel of Summitt’s coaching career is that every single player who completed their eligibility at Tennessee earned a degree.

Life Off The Court

Summitt spent most of her life in Knoxville and became one of the city’s most recognizable figures.

Summitt served as a spokesperson for the United Way, The Race for the Cure and Juvenile Diabetes. Summitt also worked with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the American Heart Association, her sorority Chi Omega and numerous other organizations.

Many national entities also tapped in on the coach’s leadership. Summitt served as a motivational speaker to groups like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Reserve Board, FedEx and Victoria’s Secret.

In 2012, former President Barack Obama awarded Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Summitt has one son, Tyler, who was born in 1990. She was on a recruiting trip to sway future Lady Vol Michelle Marciniak when her water broke. Summitt completed the Pennsylvania recruiting trip before climbing onto a plane, telling the pilot to head straight to Knoxville without stopping to ensure her son would be born in Tennessee. Tyler Summitt spoke about his mother’s love for him at the celebration of life in 2016.

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