Pat Summitt, winningest basketball coach in D1 history, has died at 64

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Tennessee coach Pat Summitt signals to her players in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers at the NCAA Women’s Mideast Regional in Nashville, Tenn. on March 21, 1998. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who uplifted the women’s game from obscurity to national prominence during her 38-year career at Tennessee, died Tuesday morning. She was 64.

“Nobody walked off a college basketball court victorious more times than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday morning. “For four decades, she outworked her rivals, made winning an attitude, loved her players like family, and became a role model to millions of Americans, including our two daughters. Her unparalleled success includes never recording a losing season in 38 years of coaching‎, but also, and more importantly, a 100 percent graduation rate among her players who completed their athletic eligibility.”

With an icy glare on the sidelines, Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight national championships and prominence on a campus steeped in the traditions of the football-rich south until she retired in 2012.

Her son, Tyler Summitt, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying his mother died peacefully at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.

“Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced,” Tyler Summitt said. “Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.”

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has confetti dumped on her by players Alicia Manning (15) and Alex Fuller (2) after the Lady Vols defeated Georgia 73-43 in an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., earning Summitt her 1,000th career coaching victory on Feb. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has confetti dumped on her by players Alicia Manning (15) and Alex Fuller (2) after the Lady Vols defeated Georgia 73-43 in an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., earning Summitt her 1,000th career coaching victory on Feb. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Summitt helped grow college women’s basketball as her Lady Vols dominated the sport in the late 1980s and 1990s, winning six titles in 12 years. Tennessee — the only school she coached — won NCAA titles in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996-98 and 2007-08. Summitt had a career record of 1,098-208 in 38 seasons, plus 18 NCAA Final Four appearances.

She announced in 2011 at age 59 that she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia. She coached one more season before stepping down. At her retirement, Summitt’s eight national titles ranked behind the 10 won by former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden. UConn coach Geno Auriemma passed Summitt after she retired.

When she stepped down, Summitt called her coaching career a “great ride.”


Peyton Manning, who sought Summitt’s advice about returning for to Tennessee for his senior season or going to the NFL, said it would have been a great experience to play for her.

“She could have coached any team, any sport, men’s or women’s. It wouldn’t have mattered because Pat could flat out coach,” Manning said in a statement. “I will miss her dearly, and I am honored to call her my friend. My thoughts and prayers are with Tyler and their entire family.”

Summitt was a tough taskmaster with a frosty glower that could strike the fear of failure in her players. She punished one team that stayed up partying before an early morning practice by running them until they vomited. She even placed garbage cans in the gym so they’d have somewhere to be sick.

FILE - In this Nov. 22, 2013, file photo, Tennessee women's basketball coach emeritus Pat Summitt, center, looks at the statue unveiled in her honor, in Knoxville, Tenn. With Summitt are, from left, her daughter-in-law AnDe Summitt, son Tyler Summitt, UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, and director of athletics Dave Hart. Summitt, the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who uplifted the women's game from obscurity to national prominence during her career at Tennessee, died Tuesday morning, June 28, 2016. She was 64. (Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Tennessee women’s basketball coach emeritus Pat Summitt, center, looks at the statue unveiled in her honor, in Knoxville, Tenn on Nov. 22, 2013. . With Summitt are, from left, her daughter-in-law AnDe Summitt, son Tyler Summitt, UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, and director of athletics Dave Hart. (Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP) 

Nevertheless, she enjoyed such an intimate relationship with her players that they called her “Pat.”

Summitt never had a losing record and her teams made the NCAA Tournament every season. She began her coaching career at Tennessee in the 1974-75 season, when her team finished 16-8.

With a 75-54 victory against Purdue on March 22, 2005, she earned her 880th victory, moving her past North Carolina’s Dean Smith as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history. She earned her 1,000th career win with a 73-43 victory against Georgia on Feb. 5, 2009.

Summitt won 16 Southeastern Conference regular season titles, as well as 16 conference tournament titles. She was an eight-time SEC coach of the year and seven-time NCAA coach of the year. She also coached the U.S. women’s Olympic team to the 1984 gold medal.

In 2006, Tennessee made Summitt the first millionaire coach in women’s basketball with a contract paying $1.125 million. She was paid $1.5 million in the final year of the six-year contract in 2011-12.

Summitt’s greatest adversary on the court was Auriemma. The two teams played 22 times from 1995-2007. Summitt ended the series after the 2007 season.

“Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did,” Auriemma said at the time of her retirement.

In 1999, Summitt was inducted as part of the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She made the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame a year later. In 2013, she also was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

President Barack Obama awards Pat Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House in Washington on May 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama awards Pat Summitt the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House in Washington on May 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Summitt was such a competitor that she refused to let a pilot land in Virginia when she went into labor while on a recruiting trip in 1990. Virginia had beaten her Lady Vols a few months earlier, preventing them from playing for a national title on their home floor.

But it was only in 2012 when being honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award that Summitt shared she had six miscarriages before giving birth to her son, Tyler.

She was born June 14, 1952, in Henrietta, Tennessee, and graduated from Cheatham County Central High School just west of Nashville. She played college basketball at the University of Tennessee at Martin where she received her bachelor’s degree in physical education. She was the co-captain of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, which won the silver medal.

After playing at UT Martin, she was hired as a graduate assistant at Tennessee and took over when the previous head coach left.

She wrote a motivational book in 1998, “Reach for the Summitt.” Additionally, she worked with Sally Jenkins on “Raise the Roof,” a book about the 1997-98 championship season, and also detailed her battle with dementia in a memoir, “Sum It Up,” released in March 2013 and also co-written with Jenkins.

“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact day that I first noticed something wrong,” Summitt wrote. “Over the course of a year, from 2010 to 2011, I began to experience a troubling series of lapses. I had to ask people to remind me of the same things, over and over. I’d ask three times in the space of an hour, ‘What time is my meeting again?’ – and then be late.”

Tennessee basketball head coach Pat Summitt watches her team as she runs them through their paces during practice at the Ted Constant Convention Center in Norfolk, Va. on March 18, 2006. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Tennessee basketball head coach Pat Summitt watches her team as she runs them through their paces during practice at the Ted Constant Convention Center in Norfolk, Va. on March 18, 2006. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Summitt started a foundation in her name to fight Alzheimer’s in 2011 that has raised millions of dollars.

After she retired, Summitt was given the title head coach emeritus at Tennessee. She had been cutting back her public appearances, coming to a handful of Tennessee games this past season and occasionally also traveled to watch her son Tyler coach at Louisiana Tech.

Earlier this year, Summitt moved out of her home into an upscale retirement resort.

Summitt is the only person to have two courts used by NCAA Division I basketball teams named in her honor: “Pat Head Summitt Court” at the University of Tennessee-Martin, and “The Summitt” at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She also has two streets named after her: “Pat Summitt Street” on the University of Tennessee-Knoxville campus and “Pat Head Summitt Avenue” on the University of Tennessee-Martin campus.

She married R.B. Summitt in 1980 and filed for divorce in 2007.

Summitt is survived by her mother, Hazel Albright Head; son, Tyler Summitt; sister, Linda; brothers, Tommy, Charles and Kenneth. Tyler Summitt said a private funeral and burial will be held in Middle Tennessee and asked that the family’s privacy be respected. A public memorial service is being planned for Thompson-Boling Arena.