|Pat Summitt speaks onstage during the 30th Annual Salute To Women In Sports Awards at The Waldorf Astoria on Oct. 13, 2009 in New York City.|
Pat Summitt, the storied women’s basketball coach who never had a losing season as she built the University of Tennessee’s program into a dynasty, has passed away at the age of 64 after an extended battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Summitt’s impact was felt on the Olympic level as both a coach and player. She won a silver medal at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games as co-captain for the first U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team, then coached the Americans to gold at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games. She also coached the U.S. squad to gold at the 1979 world championships and two William Jones Cups (1979, 1984).
"Pat Summitt was more than one of the best coaches of all time,” said United States Olympic Committee Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun. “She was a pioneer, a role model and an inspiration for generations of young athletes. She fought to the end, as she did throughout her illustrious career, and will be terribly missed and fondly remembered by all those who felt the reach of her influence."
Born in Clarksville, Tennessee, on June 14, 1952, Summitt was the fifth of six children and the first of two daughters born to Richard and Hazel Head. The family moved to the nearby town of Henrietta so she could play basketball for Cheatham County High School, since Clarksville did not field a girls’ team. She then played at the University of Tennessee at Martin, earning All-American honors. She also enjoyed success as a player at the international level, earning silver at the 1973 World University Games and gold at the Mexico City 1975 Pan American Games.
She began her coaching career in 1974, signing on as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee. She was promoted to head coach when the previous coach suddenly quit. During the 1975-76 season, she led the Lady Vols to a 16-11 record, while also earning her master’s degree and playing with the U.S. women’s team as the sport made its Olympic debut in Montreal.
Eight years later, Summitt was back on the Olympic sidelines, coaching the U.S. to the gold medal in Los Angeles with an average winning margin of nearly 33 points.
It was as Tennessee’s coach that Summitt would leave a lasting legacy on the women’s game. The numbers are staggering: 1,098 victories in a career that touched five decades, a total that is second only to Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski; eight national championships; 16 Southeastern Conference regular-season titles and as many conference tournament crowns; eight-time SEC Coach of the Year; seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year; and induction in 2000 into the Basketball Hall of Fame and in 2013 to the FIBA Hall of Fame. More importantly, every player who completed her eligibility under Summitt played in at least one Elite Eight and has either received her degree or is in the process of doing so.
In August 2011 she announced that she had been diagnosed with the disease that eventually would take her life, but she completed the 2011-12 season at the Tennessee helm. Upon her resignation at season’s end, she was appointed Head Coach Emeritus, a title that allowed her to attend practices and assist in some duties but not serve as a bench coach.
In 2012, she was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and also received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. She is the only person to have two NCAA Division I basketball courts named in her honor: “Pat Head Summitt Court” at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and “The Summitt” in Thompson-Boling Arena at the University of Tennessee.
She married R.B. Summitt in 1980. The couple divorced in 2008. She is survived by her son, Tyler.