The legendary basketball coach passed away today at age 64
“Legendary coach Pat Summitt” is how a lot of articles are starting today as people rush to praise the legacy and mourn the passing of famed University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach, Pat Summitt, who succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 64.
The superlatives are endless, and justified. Summit has more wins than any other coach in the history of Division I athletics, with 1,039 victories. The NCAA didn’t recognize women’s basketball as an official sport until eight years after she got her coaching job, but once that changed she turned Tennessee into the premiere women’s program in the country.
Summitt brought home eight national titles with the Lady Vols, with at least two championships in three consecutive decades. The first came in 1987 and the last in 2008. Every student who played under Summit over the course of her 38-year tenure as head coach graduated, and nearly half of them have gone on to become coaches themselves. She once dislocated her shoulder and tried for several hours to reset it herself before finally calling a doctor. She did not accept the word “can’t.”
Summit won a silver medal as a member of Team USA’s women’s basketball team, which she eventually went on to coach, and during the speech for her enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, Summitt remarked that there had never been an Olympic women’s roster without a Lady Vol in the lineup. Sixteen years and four Olympic Games later, that is still true today.
So much has been said about Summitt over the years, and she spoke for herself across three books written in conjunction with her biographer, Sally Jenkins. So in pouring over old interviews on YouTube, trying to dig up something distinct, it was hard to find un-trodden ground. But there was one thing: Across more than a dozen videos, most with thousands of views and some with tens of thousands of views, there were almost no down-votes or negative comments on videos featuring the coach.
This is a lady. On the internet. A feminist lady who elevated women’s college basketball to heights previously untouched, and she still managed to be universally beloved in the human bog of eternal stench that is a comments section. She was once approached by Tennessee higher ups about the possibility of advancing to coach the men’s team, and Summitt’s reply to the offer has since become legend: “Why is that considered a step up?”
The coach with the most wins in history at the highest level of college sports spent her life supporting and shaping and training the women in her charge to win, to want it more, and to work harder than anyone else. This of course can be applied on the court, but it was also meant to be extended to life—especially for women, who often have to work harder than their male counterparts for the same amount of recognition. Summit once said, also famously, “You can’t always be the strongest or most talented or most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive.”
For a woman who fell in love with a sport that belonged to men, her determination was all she had at times to overcome the obstacles in front of her. And through that determination and sheer will—and surely a helpful dose of talent—Summitt transcended gender identifiers to simply become Coach. And then she became one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Here’s how some of our most influential figures are processing Summitt’s passing around the web.