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Although not surprising, the announcement that legendary Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt resigned marks the end of an era. Summit, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia last year, will no longer pace the sidelines of the court in Knoxville. While she will still be involved with the team as “head coach emeritus,” long time assistant coach and former Lady Vol Holly Warlick will take over head coach duties.
In her unbelievably successful 38 years of coaching, Summitt won more games than anyone in NCAA college basketball history. She had 1,098 victories and an amazing NCAA record eight national championships
“I’ve loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role,” the 59-year-old Hall of Famer said in a statement issued by the school.
The immeasurable tragedy is that there may come a day when the greatest women’s basketball coach in history will not remember those national championships, her more than 1,000 victories or her 16 SEC regular season and tournament titles.
When the Lady Vols lost in a regional final a few weeks ago, Warlick and the team’s tears were a telltale sign that it likely was Summitt’s last game.
“She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting,” athletic director Dave Hart said. “Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt. I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role. She is an inspiration to everyone.”
Last season, while Summitt devoted more attention to her health, Warlick took the lead during games and handled postgame interviews. Even so, Summitt still managed to put on her trademark icy stare a time or two during the tournament.
Summitt’s diagnosis came during one of the Lady Vols’ most disappointing stretches. After a hugely successful run under Summitt, Tennessee hasn’t won a national championship since 2008 and hasn’t even reached the Final Four, which ties for its longest such drought in program history.
Tennessee’s five seniors were part of the team that lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, the only time in school history the Lady Vols had bowed out on the first weekend.
Those seniors promised they would win a ninth national championship this season – not just for Summitt, but as center Vicki Baugh put it, ” … for everyone who has Alzheimer’s.”
Unfortunately, they couldn’t make it back to the Final Four, losing to Baylor and Brittney Griner, a player Summitt couldn’t convince to come to Knoxville.
Summitt’s career ends with a 1,098-208 record, 16 regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and 16 SEC tournament titles.
The legendary coach’s impact reaches way beyond wins and losses however. Every Lady Vol player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated, and 74 former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are currently among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball.
“You think about the University of Tennessee and you think of Pat Summitt,” former Vols player Tamika Catchings said. “You don’t think of anyone else. The great players that have come and gone, coaches that have come and gone, but the legacy that she built for herself and for the university. It’s amazing how far women’s basketball has come. Her legacy isn’t over yet.”
Summitt also coached such WNBA players as Chamique Holdsclaw, Candace Parker and Kara Lawson.
Talking about her future Summit says:
“If anyone asks, you can find me observing practice or in my office. Coaching is the great passion of my life, and the job to me has always been an opportunity to work with our student-athletes and help them discover what they want. I will continue to make them my passion. I love our players and my fellow coaches, and that’s not going to change.”
Fans of women’s basketball will forever cherish the memories of watching Summitt coach championships teams, even if the coach herself can’t.