Tennessee’s Pat Summitt Closing in on Wins Record

Summitt two wins away from tying Smith (ESPN)

Summitt won her 877th game to move past Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, and the Lady Vols (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today; No. 5 AP) reached the Southeastern Conference championship game with their ninth straight victory over state rival Vanderbilt, 76-73. The win sets up the SEC’s dream final with Tennessee (25-4) facing LSU for the title Sunday. A victory there would draw Summitt within one of Dean Smith’s all-time mark of 879 victories, with the NCAA Tournament ahead.


Summitt is a terrific coach and deserves her place among the all-time greats. But comparing her win total with that of Rupp or Smith is like comparing apples and jelly beans.

Men’s college basketball is infinitely more competitive than the women’s game. While the women’s game has grown at a phenomenal rate in recent years, to the point where the top schools are arguably playing better basketball than at most men’s programs, the fact remains that there are only a handful of schools with a shot at winning the NCAA title in the women’s game, compared to dozens in the men’s game. Indeed, the women have only had a championship tournament since 1982, vice 1932 for the men.

Look at the champions over the era since the women’s tournament began:


1982 North Carolina Dean Smith Georgetown 63-62
1983 North Carolina State Jim Valvano Houston 54-52
1984 Georgetown John Thompson Houston 84-75
1985 Villanova Rollie Massimino Georgetown 66-64
1986 Louisville Denny Crum Duke 72-69
1987 Indiana Bob Knight Syracuse 74-73
1988 Kansas Larry Brown Oklahoma 83-79
1989 Michigan Steve Fisher Seton Hall 80-791
1990 Nevada Las Vegas Jerry Tarkanian Duke 103-73
1991 Duke Mike Krzyzewski Kansas 72-65
1992 Duke Mike Krzyzewski Michigan 71-51
1993 North Carolina Dean Smith Michigan 77-71
1994 Arkansas Nolan Richardson Duke 76-72
1995 UCLA Jim Harrick Arkansas 89-78
1996 Kentucky Rick Pitino Syracuse 76-67
1997 Arizona Lute Olson Kentucky 84-79
1998 Kentucky Tubby Smith Utah 78-69
1999 Connecticut Jim Calhoun Duke 77-74
2000 Michigan State Tom Izzo Florida 89-76
2001 Duke Mike Krzyzewski Arizona 82-72
2002 Maryland Gary Williams Indiana 64-52
2003 Syracuse Jim Boeheim Kansas 81-78
2004 Connecticut Jim Calhoun Georgia Tech 82-73


1982 Louisiana Tech Sonja Hogg Cheyney 76-62
1983 USC Linda Sharp Louisiana Tech 69-67
1984 USC Linda Sharp Tennessee 72-61
1985 Old Dominion Marianne Stanley Georgia 70-65
1986 Texas Jody Conradt USC 97-81
1987 Tennessee Pat Summitt Louisiana Tech 67-44
1988 Louisiana Tech Leon Barmore Auburn 56-54
1989 Tennessee Pat Summitt Auburn 76-60
1990 Stanford Tara VanDerveer Auburn 88-81
1991 Tennessee Pat Summitt Virginia 70-67*
1992 Stanford Tara VanDerveer Western Kentucky 78-62
1993 Texas Tech Marsha Sharp Ohio State 84-82
1994 North Carolina Sylvia Hatchell Louisiana Tech 60-59
1995 Connecticut Geno Auriemma Tennessee 70-64
1996 Tennessee Pat Summitt Georgia 83-65
1997 Tennessee Pat Summitt Old Dominion 68-59
1998 Tennessee Pat Summitt Louisiana Tech 93-75
1999 Purdue Carolyn Peck Duke 62-45
2000 Connecticut Geno Auriemma Tennessee 71-52
2001 Notre Dame Muffet McGraw Purdue 68-66
2002 Connecticut Geno Auriemma Oklahoma 82-70
2003 Connecticut Geno Auriemma Tennessee 73-68
2004 Connecticut Geno Auriemma Tennessee 70-61

There have been 18 different men’s championship winners in that 23 game period compared to 11 for the women. Summitt’s Lady Vols have been in the championship game of 11 of the 23 games! No men’s team has had anywhere close to that level of dominance. The field is just too strong.

Comparing Summitt with her male counterparts, with whom she has never been in direct competition, diminishes the achievements of all concerned. Summitt is a great coach and should be honored for her accomplishments. She’s the greatest coach in the history of the women’s game. Let it go at that.

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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. Rick says:

    So where does that put John Wooden? There were only 2 diff natl champs during his run. I don’t think you can diminish Summitt’s SIX Natl Titles. Anybody who coaches their team to six natl titles in anything has to one of the all time greats. As far as Xs and Os, I think Summitt is better than Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp ever were ( not better than Bobby Knight or Coach K however). Hell Rupp coached in era of segregation, so Summitt may be facing better competition now anyway.

  2. James Joyner says:

    How would we know? Until very, very recently, there was essentially no competition at all in the women’s game. Even now, three or four schools dominate.

    During Wooden’s era, there were still many terrific programs; Wooden ws just able to stockpile the talent.

    Again, I’m not claiming Summitt isn’t a terrific coach. I’m just saying her “wins” aren’t the same as the “wins” of her men’s game counterparts. (That’s true of the male coaches in the women’s game, too.)

  3. Kappiy says:

    Well according to the article’s logic, Summitt, Rupp, and Smith are all amateurs when compared to baseball coach Gordie Gillespie from Ripon College in Wisconsin who won 1,654 games in his career.

    Next to Gordie, they’re all bums!