College athletics is a world unto itself, with a rich history full of champions and legends. We remember and talk about the biggest stars – championship teams, powerhouse programs, star players, and legendary coaches. Its part of what makes the sports so exciting to watch. But of all the hugely influential names we’ll remember through the years, few will come close to having the impact of Pat Summitt.
You simply can’t overstate Summitt’s impact and influence on collegiate women’s basketball. It can’t be done. In fact, you can’t rightly restrict talking about her legacy in terms of NCAA women’s basketball. Summitt’s influence has been felt throughout all college athletics.
This reverence and reflection has been prompted by Summitt’s decision this week to step down as head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols women’s basketball team after 38 years. This in turn was prompted by her shocking announcement last year that she has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
It is a testament to Summitt’s passion and resilience that she asked and was allowed to continue head coaching after her diagnosis, and a testament to the love Tennessee has for her that she was told she could continue coaching until she believed she was unable. And it is a grim testament to the virulence of the condition that she has chosen to step down one season later.
Pat Summitt has a final record as a head coach of 1098-1306. That’s more than five wins to every one loss. She has won the NCAA National Championship 8 times, and won the Southeastern Conference 15 times. She has been to the Final Four more times than any college coach ever – surpassing the legendary John Wooden in 2002. In 1997-98, she achieved the highest degree of victory possible in her sport – coaching her team to a perfect 39-0 season culminating with a tournament championship. In 38 years as a coach, she has never had a losing-record season.
And yet what is perhaps the most amazing and inspiring statistic of her career is this: no player who has ever played under Summitt has failed to graduate from college. Now that is a legacy worth remembering.