Arguably the best coach in the history of women’s basketball retired Wednesday, and the game wouldn’t be anything close to what it is today without the contributions of Pat Summitt.

The all-time winningest coach (men or women) in collegiate basketball (1,098 wins) stepped down just months after she revealed she’s battling the early stages of dementia. And while the 59-year-old’s departure from the sidelines after 38 years will leave an unreplaceable void in the game and particularly in Knoxville, Tenn., the impact that she’s had on the game and her players will continue.

Summitt was one of the women honored in 100 Trailblazers: Great Women Athletes Who Opened Doors for Future Generations, authored by Richard Lapchick and others. In order to gain a better understanding of the contributions Summitt has made to the women’s game as a player and a coach, reprinted below are portions of the chapter written by Jessica Bartter honoring Summitt in 100 Trailblazers.


Most basketball coaches hope the “summit” of their careers could match just one mediocre season of Pat Summitt’s, but talent like hers is what separates good coaches from exceptional ones.

The responsibility of a coach extends far beyond the bench in Summitt’s mind. She embodies the title of a true life educator, caring about her athletes’ personal lives and demanding their dedication to academics while building a program at the University of Tennessee (UT) that resembles a family. And that family just so happens to consist of approximately [170] female basketball players because Summitt held the reins of UT’s program for [38] years, since she was a youthful 22-year-old new to the coaching realm.

Most of Summitt’s experience came from being on the court, not the bench. The dominant player started all four years of high school before continuing her dominance at the University of Tennessee- Martin playing basketball and volleyball. Summitt graduated in 1974 as the basketball squad’s all-time leading scorer with 1,045 points.

Nearby in Knoxville, heads were turning. Summitt received a letter from the physical education department’s chairperson, Dr. Helen B. Watson at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, offering the 21-year-old senior a graduate teaching assistantship and the assistant coaching position for the women’s basketball team. Eager to continue her education and have the ability to continue playing in order to train for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Summitt accepted UT’s offer.

Just two weeks after her acceptance, Summitt was shocked to learn the current head coach was taking a sabbatical and the university wanted Summitt to take full command. For someone who had never planned a practice—let alone ran drills—one can imagine the shock and horror young Summitt felt.

UT probably prepared itself for a few lull years after Summitt’s hire, anticipating the new coach may need some time to bring home a .500 season or even a conference championship. But the mountain was one Summitt was built to climb. In just her first year as a coach, UT brought home a 16-8 record and a trip to the finals of the state tournament. All the while, Summitt was working on her master’s degree, teaching physical education classes, and working on her own game. She successfully juggled all four tasks and she soon found herself on the 1975 U.S. Women’s World Championship team and the 1975 Pan American Games team. And just as she’d hoped, she traveled with the U.S. team to Montreal for the 1976 Olympic Games, where she co-captained the team that brought home the silver medal.

In just her third season at UT, Summitt saw her wins jump to over 20—a number they have never fallen below since. The Lady Vols went 28-5 while making it to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Final Four in 1976–77. The next nine seasons saw successful return trips to the national tournament, but that coveted national championship eluded Summitt until 1986–87. The Lady Vols went on to win seven more National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles since 1987, most recently in 2007–08, when they defended their 2006–07 title.

Her UT teams of 1996, 1997, and 1998 were the first ever women’s basketball squads to win back-to-back-to-back titles. Summitt [retires from the game] as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history—men’s or women’s—with a 1,098-207 record. In 2000, she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. In honor of her accomplishments, UT officially nicknamed their basketball arena, “The Summitt.”

Despite the forceful persona that Summitt now exhibits, she was once shy and timid, which may shock some of her former team members. Though she’d always gone by Tricia or Trish, her hesitation in correcting Dr. Watson and other physical education department officials in her early UT days allowed them to re-nickname her Pat. Subsequently, the name Pat Summitt is the one that has gone down in the history books.

Young Trish was born in Henrietta, Tennessee, in 1952. Growing up, Summitt quickly learned the meaning of diligence firsthand from her strong disciplinarian father, her constant competition with three older brothers and younger sister, and the demands of living on a family farm. In Summitt’s family, hard work was not appreciated, it was expected. More so, laziness and excuses were not tolerated. When she was a child, Summitt’s routine included attending school and church, and performing her daily chores such as chopping tobacco, plowing the field, or baling hay. After finishing her chores, Summitt found refuge in playing basketball with her brothers in the hayloft.

Summitt’s strict father stressed the importance of education to her at a young age. She never missed a day of school from kindergarten through high school. This value stuck with her and is one she insisted upon her student-athletes, emphasizing the student. All of her players [were] required to sit in the first three rows of class, pay attention, complete all of their assignments on time, and show respect to everyone. Any player who [chose] not to go to class also made the decision not to play in the next game. The honor of being a Lady Vol comes at a price. A player must be dedicated to her team and academics, and be responsible for her actions at all times. Summitt’s tough demeanor paid dividends to the individual team members and the university; in [38] years, she graduated 100 percent of her players who exhausted their athletic eligibility.

In the community, Summitt is an active philanthropist and in 1997 was honored by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton at a White House luncheon for the “25 Most Influential Working Mothers” chosen by Working Mother magazine. She has acted as a spokesperson for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the American Heart Association, and [has been] active with the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program, the United Way, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and The Race for the Cure. Along the way, Summitt has accumulated many awards and recognitions for her contributions. In 1996, she was awarded “Distinguished Citizen of the Year” by the Boy Scouts of America and in 1998 she was named the “Woman of the Year” by both Glamour magazine and the City of Knoxville. Most notably, in 2000, Summitt became just the fourth women’s basketball coach to be elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

After [38] seasons at Tennessee, Summitt [has been] much more than a coach to her Lady Vols. She [was] a leader, master motivator, champion, educator, role model, and friend. Summitt [taught her players] to believe in themselves and reach their full potential as student-athletes at Tennessee and in life. Most important, though, she [led] by example.

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