Pat Summitt needs no memorial yet
On Tuesday, CBS broke the news that Pat Summitt, head coach of the Tennessee Volunteer's Women's basketball team, is suffering from early onset dementia. Summit plans to coach this season and beyond, but this revelation raises questions as to what could happen to one of the most dominant coaching careers in the history of collegiate sports.
But now is not the perfect time to recount Summitt's record. The perfect time would have been upon her entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Or upon her 1,000th win. Or at almost any other point in her storied career.
No doubt, though, the headlines (including this one) will be full of memorials and tributes and toasts to the sublime Summitt. Despite how well Summitt's been treated, with the landmarks and accompanying stories above serving as reference, let the record show that she has not been regaled nearly enough. With a lifetime record of 1071-199 (for a ridiculous win percentage of 84.3), and having served as the head coach of the Lady Vols since the mid-1970s, she is, arguably, the most successful coach of all time, in any sport. Add in 8 NCAA championships and her team's championship in the SEC 16 times and it's hard to match up with her, no matter where you're coming from. Phil Jackson is feted as a king for his 11 championships in the NBA, but he also earned $10 million last season. For comparison's sake, Summitt pulled down a mere $350,000 as her base salary last year.
But it's not about just the wins and it's certainly not about the money. People have been paid more and there have been record-breaking win-streaks around Summitt. Rather, it's about the gravity that Pat Summitt brings to the game. She's a fierce competitor and she refuses to let things idly pass. She started at Tennessee in 1974 before women's basketball was even an official NCAA sport. She's coached some of the all-time greats in the women's game (including Candace Parker and Chamique Holdsclaw). Her battles with the University of Connecticut and coach Geno Auriemma are the very thing that attracted many people to women's basketball in the first place.
To say that Summitt's diagnosis is a blow to the sport would be an understatement. However, the tributes that will undoubtedly be unfolding in the coming days are premature. Summitt is a fine coach and will do everything in her power to continue with those responsibilities. Most appropriately, Summitt herself laid out a very Summitt-esque statement: " There will be no pity party." This woman is a warrior. Regardless of your feelings on basketball in general, or women's basketball in particular, take a moment today to appreciate what she's done for the game. For almost four decades, Summitt has patrolled the sidelines in Tennessee in that famous orange, and, as she herself has said, as long as the "good Lord is willing," she will continue to do so.