Yesterday, CBS broke the news that Pat Summitt, current head coach of the Tennessee Volunteer's Women's basketball team, is suffering from early onset dementia. Summit plans to coach this season and beyond, but this revelation casts quite the pall against her tremendous record.
Now is not the perfect time to recount Summitt's record. The perfect time would have been upon her entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Or upon her 1,000th win. Or at almost any other point in her storied career.
No doubt, though, today's headlines will be full of memorials and tributes and toasts to the sublime Summitt, including this one. Despite how well as Summitt's been treated, with the landmarks and accompanying stories above serving as reference, let the record show that she has not been regaled nearly enough. With a lifetime record of 1071-199 (for a ridiculous win percentage of 84.3) and having served as the head coach of the Lady Vols since the mid-1970s, she is, arguably, the most successful coach of all time, in any sport. Add in 8 NCAA championships and her team's championship in the SEC 16 times and it's hard to match up with her no matter where you're coming from. Phil Jackson is feted as a king for his 11 championships in the NBA, but he also earned 10 million dollars last season. For comparison's sake, Summitt pulled down a mere 350,000 as her base salary last year.
But it's not about just the wins and it's certainly not about the money. People have been paid more and there have been record-breaking win-streaks around Summitt. Rather, it's about the gravity that Pat Summitt brings to the game. She's a fierce competitor and she refuses to let things idly pass. She started at Tennessee in 1974 before women's basketball was even an official NCAA sport. She's coached some of the all-time greats in the women's game (including Candace Parker and Chamique Holdsclaw). Her battles with the University of Connecticut and coach Geno Auriemma are the very thing that attracted many people to women's basketball in the first place.
To say that Summitt's diagnosis is a blow to the sport would be an understatement. However, the tributes that will undoubtedly (to be frank, are, right here, before your very eyes) be unfolding in the coming days are premature. Summitt is a fine coach and will do everything in her power to continue with those responsibilities. Most appropriately, Summitt herself laid out a very Pat-Summitt-statement: "There will be no pity party." This woman is a warrior. Regardless of your feelings on basketball in general or women's basketball in particular, take a moment today to appreciate what she's done for the game. For almost four decades, Summitt has patrolled the sidelines in Tennessee in that famous orange and, as she herself has said, as long as the "good Lord is willing," she will continue to do so.