Pat Summitt, winningest coach in Division I history, dies at 64

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, a pioneer of women's college basketball who guided the Tennessee Volunteers to eight national titles in her 38 seasons at the university, died Tuesday morning. She was 64.

Summitt led the Lady Vols to 1,098 victories -- the most in Division I college basketball history (men or women) -- before stepping down in 2012, one year after announcing she had early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

Her son, Tyler Summitt, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying his mother died peacefully at the Sherrill Hills retirement facility 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."

Tyler Summitt said a private funeral and burial will be held in Middle Tennessee and asked that the family's privacy be respected. A Celebration of Life Service honoring Summitt will be open to the public at 7 p.m. July 14 at Thompson-Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus.

Named the NCAA coach of the year seven times, Summitt led the Lady Vols to 22 Final Fours (18 NCAA, four AIAW) in her nearly four decades as coach.

"Pat Summitt is synonymous with Tennessee, but she truly is a global icon who transcended sports and spent her entire life making a difference in other peoples' lives," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said in a statement. "She was a genuine, humble leader who focused on helping people achieve more than they thought they were capable of accomplishing. Pat was so much more than a Hall of Fame coach; she was a mother, mentor, leader, friend, humanitarian and inspiration to so many. Her legacy will live on through the countless people she touched throughout her career."

Of her eight national championships, she won three straight from 1996 to 1998. Her teams won 16 Southeastern Conference tournament titles and made an unprecedented 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

"I miss her, and it's a very sad day," former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, who played at the school from 1994 to 1997, said on SportsCenter. "When you hear her former players talk about her and the impact she had on them as players and people, it speaks volumes.

"She loved everything about Tennessee. Everyone in the state was proud to have her as an ambassador. She had a huge impact on everyone she met. I always felt better every time I was around her."

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.

Summitt's greatest adversary on the court was Auriemma. UConn and Tennessee played 22 times between 1995 and 2007. Summitt ended the series after the 2007 season.

"From a competitive standpoint, it was the one program, the one game that each year you kind of measured yourself and your team ... that, hey, when we play this game we'll know if we're good enough to win a championship," Auriemma said Tuesday on SportsCenter. "From a personal standpoint, you can see how difficult it was for a woman to do something no woman had done before and try to juggle being a mom, coach and a representative of the game. ... She was the first. There were other people that did it, but nobody did it better or did it longer.

"Whoever writes the history of women's basketball, her name and influence will be all over that book from the mid-'70s until they don't play basketball anymore. ... She was the defining figure of the game. Lots of people coach the game, but very few get to define the game."

For many, with the advent of Title IX in 1972, Summitt became the face of women's college team sports in that she helped prove, from the outset, that they could work.

Long before the Lady Vols had their own basketball-only practice facility and she was making a seven-figure salary, Summitt made just $8,900 per year and fought with physical education classes for practice space in a multiuse gymnasium.

"I don't know how much I've had to do with that, but I'm proud of what's happened," Summitt told ESPN in 2009 about the growth of women's sports. "That's the main thing. I do take a lot of pride in seeing the success of other conferences, as well as what's happening right here on this campus. And just seeing women's sports with a level of appreciation and awareness and coverage that we've never enjoyed before. So yeah, when I think about that, have we finally arrived? I hope so."

As a child, Summitt's father moved his family across county lines to a district where the high school had a girls' basketball team so she would be able to play.

She attended college at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she starred on the basketball court that now bears her name. She helped lead the team to a 64-29 record at UT Martin, along with two appearances in the national championship tournament. She graduated as the school's all-time leading scorer (1,045 points).

During her junior year in college, she played with the U.S. team in the World University Games. The silver medal she won there was matched with the same finish as part of the national team at the 1975 Pan Am Games, by which time she had begun her college coaching career and had recovered from a knee injury suffered in her senior year. She then played for and co-captained the U.S. team at the 1976 Olympic Games, earning another silver medal as the U.S. finished second to the Soviet Union as women's basketball made its first appearance as an official Olympic sport.

Eight years later, Summitt coached the U.S. national team to gold at the 1984 Olympic Games. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. Summitt was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2012.

"Pat was a patriot who earned Olympic medals for America as a player and a coach, and I was honored to award her the Presidential Medal of Freedom," a statement from President Barack Obama read. "She was a proud Tennessean who, when she went into labor while on a recruiting visit, demanded the pilot return to Knoxville so her son could be born in her home state. And she was an inspiring fighter. Even after Alzheimer's started to soften her memory, and she began a public and brave fight against that terrible disease, Pat had the grace and perspective to remind us that 'God doesn't take things away to be cruel. ... He takes things away to lighten us. He takes things away so we can fly.'

"Michelle and I send our condolences to Pat Summitt's family -- which includes her former players and fans on Rocky Top and across America."

Summitt was also named Sports Illustrated's Sportswoman of the Year in 2011 and honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2012 ESPYS. And, perhaps most important, all her players who completed their eligibility went on to earn their degrees.

"As a coach, you want to win. Pat did that," Hall of Fame men's coach Bob Knight told ESPN in 2014. "But across the board with her kids, she also prepared them for life after basketball. Her kids probably had the best situation of any group of players at the college level, male or female, for learning what life would be all about. Through what they had learned through her practices and games, Pat's players were ready to go out and be successful beyond basketball.

"I'm sure she has a tremendous feeling of pride in what her players have accomplished in basketball and whatever endeavors they've gone into. Not many people have prepared their players that well for life."

Tamika Catchings, who won two national titles with Tennessee, also spoke to that point in 2013.

"When you look at all of us and all the things we've been able to accomplish not only on the basketball court, but even off the court, we've got coaches, we've got entrepreneurs, we've got mothers, a little bit of everything," Catchings said. "We learned [from Summitt] what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to be a great woman, what it takes to be a great lady, what it takes to have character, what it takes to have poise, how not to buckle under adversity."

At the age of 22, Summitt accepted the offer of a graduate teaching and assistant coaching position at the University of Tennessee after graduating from UT Martin in 1974. When the head coach suddenly resigned to pursue a doctoral study program, Summitt was promoted. The Lady Vols lost their first game under her and went on to finish 16-8.

In her second season (1975-76), Summitt coached the Lady Vols while earning her master's degree and training for the U.S. Olympic team. The next two seasons, she guided Tennessee to back-to-back Region II titles in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Womenand entry into the national tournament.

The Lady Vols made their first AIAW Final Four in 1977 and made a return to the national semifinals in 1979 (finishing third both times). She then guided Tennessee to back-to-back AIAW national championship games in 1980 and '81 but fell short both times.

After the NCAA took over as the governing body for women's sports by 1982, Summitt led the Lady Vols to two of the first three NCAA Final Fours, finishing runners-up to Southern California in 1984. That summer, Summitt returned to L.A. and coached the U.S. national team to the gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games.

The 1986-87 season proved historic for Summitt and Tennessee, as she claimed her 300th victory and guided the Lady Vols, led by forward Bridgette Gordon and guard Tonya Edwards, to their first national title. Two years later, again led by Gordon and Edwards, Tennessee won title No. 2.

The 1990s proved hugely successful for Summitt and Tennessee, as they won national titles in1991 (with All-American Daedra Charles) and from 1996 to '98, becoming the first women's basketball team to win three national championships in a row.

Chamique Holdsclaw was the backbone of those three titles, and she was joined by freshmen Catchings and Semeka Randall as the Lady Vols cruised to a 39-0 record en route to title No. 6, setting a record for wins by a women's team in a single season.

Despite reaching the Final Four five times, the Lady Vols went eight seasons without another national title. During that time, however, Summitt passed Jody Conradt in March 2002 as the all-time leader in women's Division I wins with her 788th. In March 2005, she passed Dean Smith's Division I record for wins with her 880th victory.

In 2006, Summitt received a six-year contract extension and became the first women's basketball coach to break past the million-dollar salary threshold with an annual $1.125 million.

The following year, Summitt celebrated the 20th anniversary of Tennessee's first national championship by returning to the top of the sport behind sophomore All-American Candace Parker. Summitt won her final championship -- No. 8 -- in 2008.

After Summitt earned win No. 1,000 in 2009, Tennessee gave her a $200,000 bonus and awarded her with a contract extension through 2014. After revealing that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Summitt continued to coach the team through the 2011-12 season and reached the Elite Eight.

After the season, Summitt announced she would step aside -- finishing with a 1,098-208 (.841) record, with longtime assistant Holly Warlick taking over as head coach.

"We had such a strong connection," Warlick said during a teleconference Tuesday morning. "We shared so much outside of basketball. Honestly, I didn't see me coaching anywhere else but Tennessee."

After stepping aside, Summitt was honored by the university with a bronze statue on Pat Summitt Plaza and was given the title of head coach emeritus for as long as she agreed to the role. Former players and colleagues said Summitt's fight against early onset dementia through her organization, the Pat Summitt Foundation, surpassed even her accomplishments as a coach.

"On a scale of what's real life, what she's done for people by raising awareness and dollars and putting the foundation [together] is much more impactful than what her record might have been," former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer said in July 2015.

Graham Hays and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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