Pat Summitt coaches during the Final Four game with the North Carolina Tar Heels at the 2007 NCAA Women's Final Four on April 1, 2007 in Cleveland.
When it comes to summing up the late Pat Summitt, you could do a lot worse than a simple sentence uttered by LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey.
“I’ve said many times: It doesn’t matter how many championships other coaches win,” said Mulkey, “there’ll always only be one Pat Summitt.”
Summitt, who won an Olympic silver medal as a player in 1976 and added a gold medal as the U.S. coach in 1984, also won eight NCAA championships as the Tennessee head coach. Tennessee never missed the NCAA tournament in 38 years. She remains third in all-time wins with 1,098.
There’s perhaps no more iconic coach in the history of women’s basketball.
And the accolades keep rolling in.
On June 24, Summitt, who died in 2016 at age 64, will become the first woman inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame in the coaching category.
A true daughter of Tennessee, Summitt (then Pat Head) was born in Clarksville and joined the basketball team at Tennessee-Martin in 1970, two years before Title IX was enacted. A record-setting career there led to her selection to Team USA for the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, the first to feature women’s basketball.
A 5-foot-10 forward, Summitt averaged 5.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in helping Team USA win a silver medal.
Then she had to head back to Knoxville for her full-time job coaching the Lady Vols.
Mulkey has had a front row seat for much of Summitt’s career.
Long before she was national championship winning college coach herself, Mulkey was a talented guard for Louisiana Tech, one of the early powers in women’s college basketball. Summitt’s Lady Vols were a regular nemesis.
“We played them every year,” said Mulkey, who won a pair of national titles as a player. “Pat Summitt was a competitor.”
Summitt must have seen something she liked, because in 1984 she selected Mulkey to play for her on the U.S. Olympic team in Los Angeles.
“I also am indebted to her because six weeks prior to the Olympics, I woke up with a stress fracture on the top of my foot, and I was concerned that they would pick up an alternate,” Mulkey said. “And she comforted me and said absolutely not.”
Did Summitt live up to her reputation as a tough coach in Mulkey’s estimation?
“I wish we had more tough coaches,” Mulkey said. “I think those tough coaches make us who we are and make us appreciate what we have in life now. The stories I would tell are all wonderful because she was a tough coach.
“She was disciplined. She held you accountable. You were a winner because of her being tough.”
Mulkey, who led Baylor to three NCAA titles before taking over at LSU in 2021, also admired Summitt beyond her coaching acumen.
“She was a role model,” Mulkey said. “She was a mother. She was somebody that you just aspired to be like if you were in coaching because she was a winner, she was very competitive, passionate, and yet she included her child in all that she did.
“When I became a mother, I had these memories of watching her cut nets down with her son, and I wanted to do the same.”