Pat Summitt Dead at 64

One of the greatest coaches of all time has passed.


Pat Summitt, the legendary former coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, has died after a long illness.


Pat Summitt, who built the University of Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers into a perennial power on the way to becoming the winningest coach in the history of major college basketball, has died. She was 64.

In her 38 years at Tennessee, Summitt won eight national titles and 1,098 games — the most by any Division 1 basketball coach, male or female. Her teams made an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Counting up wins in separate sports and then comparing the totals is a silly exercise. It’s also an irrelevant one; Summitt was among the greatest coaches of all time in any sport as well as a tremendous ambassador for hers.  Her legacy is secure:
But beyond the wins and the statistics, Summitt also was a paradigm shifter who had a profound impact on women’s college athletics.
When she became head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974 at the age of 22 — barely older than some of her players — the NCAA did not even formally recognize women’s basketball. Summitt had to drive the team van to road games herself.
As the wins and the championships piled up, Summitt’s astonishing achievements commanded national attention and helped usher women’s basketball into the modern spotlight.
Summitt’s impressive coaching record earned her a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

She faced her too-soon mortality with characteristic grace:

But in 2011 her illustrious career was plunged into uncertainty when she announced she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
Faced with the devastating news, Summitt remained characteristically herself. She vowed to keep coaching.
“This is not a pity party,” she said. “We’re not going to sit here and feel sorry for Pat Summit.”
She coached for one more year, securing the Lady Vols their 16th SEC Championship under her leadership. Then she retired. But she didn’t step away from the sport she loved.
“If anyone asks, you can find me observing practice or in my office,” Summitt said at the time. “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.”

News started circulating yesterday that she was in rapid decline and there was an outpouring of praise and sympathy from the coaching fraternity, including her longtime rival Geno Aueriemma:

“She was the one that everyone tried to emulate. That was the program everyone tried to be,” he said.

He remembered when they first faced off in 1995 when Summitt agreed to come to Storrs and play the Huskies on national television.

“I don’t think anyone was surprised she wanted to play in that game,” Auriemma said. “That’s what she did. We try to do that. Play everybody anytime, anywhere. That’s how she built her program to where it is.”


“She’s meant so much to the game and the sport. I’ve always had wonderful interactions with her when I was a broadcaster,” Rebecca Lobo said. “I was completely unaware until I saw the stuff this morning. It made me really sad.”

For all the talk of the rivalry between UConn and Tennessee, which ran from that first game in 1995 to the last in 2007, the Huskies respected Summitt.

“You can’t say enough about her,” Diana Taurasi said after the Mercury’s OT win. “If it wasn’t for her, we probably wouldn’t be playing in Madison Square Garden. Connecticut never would have been Connecticut. She made people take notice of the sport at a time when it probably wasn’t easy. She forced the hand. She was the one.

“It’s really sad for her family and her friends, her ex-teammates. Her basketball family is hurting right now. Everyone is.”

Swin Cash was emotional after Sunday’s game, talking about the legendary coach who recruited her in high school. Cash said her college choice came down to Connecticut and Tennessee. She picked the Huskies.

“Out of my class, I was the only one that had that decision,” Cash said choking up at times. “It was probably one of the hardest things I ever had to do was call her up and tell her I wasn’t coming. I respected what she stood for so much.”

Cash recalled that every time she saw Summitt after turning down Tennessee, the coach would ask how her mother and grandmother were doing.

“I continue to pray for her. It doesn’t matter how many times we beat Tennessee or they beat us, my level of respect for Coach Summitt was right up there,” Cash said. “She was one of the best ever to do it, being the trailblazer that she was.”

Cash smiled remembering how Summitt came and spoke at Cash’s athletic awards banquet when she was in 10th grade.

“She walked in, and everyone was like, ‘That’s Pat Summitt,'” Cash said. “I was like, ‘I know, she’s been recruiting me.’ It was just the presence she had when she walked into a room.”

Taurasi echoed that sentiment when she recalled the first time she saw Summitt in person.

“I was playing in an AAU tournament in Cocoa Beach and she walked in the gym,” she said. “I grew up watching SEC basketball as it was the only thing on CBS. To see her walk in a gym, you truly understand it was serious.”

She’s been a major figure as far back as I can remember and was dominating women’s college basketball since well before I paid any attention to it. It’s amazing that she was only 64.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Nice tribute.

    In other melancholy sports news, Buddy Ryan has died as well.

  2. James Pearce says:

    Summitt was among the greatest coaches of all time in any sport as well as a tremendous ambassador for hers. Her legacy is secure

    Truth. No offense to Thompson or Boling, but Pat Summitt’s name should probably be up on the arena. (Not just the court.)

  3. Franklin says:

    Thankfully I haven’t had much personal experience with Alzheimer’s. I did read that very good Still Alice book by Lisa Genova which was written from the perspective of an early onset victim.

    It’s very sad, just thinking about what she has achieved already and then imagining how much more it could have been without being cut short. For all we know, she could have gone from “one of the greats” to arguably the best coach of any sport of all time.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Franklin: The limited competitiveness of the women’s game would likely have put that out of reach but, certainly, should could have added to the argument. She retired four years ago, aged 59, and coached the last season post-diagnosis. She could easily have had another decade at the helm.

  5. Jenos Idanian says:

    It’s not official until Obama makes it about himself.

    OK, it’s official.

  6. Lit3Bolt says:

    As a Knoxville, TN native, Coach Summitt has been a legendary figure for our “scruffy little city.” Her contributions to the sport of basketball are literally incalculable. I’m sure there will be numerous tributes locally and nationally.

    It was shocking when her diagnosis was announced five years ago. When she retired after that, the University of Tennessee quickly designed and threw up a memorial and statue, like they were racing against the clock. Often, Alzheimer’s can take decades to progress. Just out of medical curiosity, I wonder if she had Pick’s disease or some different neural degenerative disorder.

  7. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    It’s not official until Obama makes it about himself.

    You mean, it’s not official until someone makes it all about Obama.

  8. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    He’s not obsessed about race! He’s just obsessed about making anything about race!

    Get it right!

  9. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jenos Idanian: You’re just like July at a school–no class!

  10. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: @James Pearce: If you like, I can present a long, long list of Obama commemorating the passing of a notable figure by inserting himself into the story, usually with a picture of himself. Rosa Parks (Obama on the bus), Neil Armstrong (Obama looking at the moon), Nelson Mandela (Obama in Mandela’s cell)… just the first that come to mind.

    So my mentioning it is tackier than him doing it?

  11. James Pearce says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    So my mentioning it is tackier than him doing it?

    It’s mostly just weird.

    A celebrated basketball coach passes away and you go, “Let’s take this opportunity to snark at the president.” If there’s a word for that, could it be “fixation?”

    And really, the criticism is rather weak. Everyone experiences life subjectively and it’s no great crime to commemorate “the passing of a notable figure by inserting (your)self into the story.”

    I didn’t know David Bowie, Prince, or Waylon Jennings, but I was sad when they passed because of what their music meant to me. What an awful, awful man I am.

  12. JohnMcC says:

    @Jenos Idanian: You show all the wonderful classiness of Mr Trump explaining that the Pound getting hammered and trillions of Pounds disappearing from the British economy means that many more rich folks will come to Turnberry. You have joined the big leagues of scum, little man.

    I’m an old vol. It says so on my personalized FL plate. And I was there when Ms Summit’s exertions (and the Federal title IX rules) made women’s basketball virtually a brand new sport in the American scene. Anyone who does not feel that the universe has lost a significant part of it greatness with her passing is someone who does not deserve their next breath.