Thursday, Tyler Summitt, the head women’s basketball coach at Louisiana Tech, resigned because of what was termed an inappropriate relationship in a statement. It has come out through sources that he impregnated one of the members of his team.
The hiring of Summitt from the Marquette University coaching staff back in 2014 was supposed to have been the union of two enormous successes in women’s collegiate basketball. Louisiana Tech has the second-most wins in the history of Division I women’s basketball, mainly thanks to legendary coaches like Sonja Hogg and Leon Barmore, who brought the Lady Techsters three national championships in the AIAW and NCAA.
And Tyler Summitt is the 25-year-old son of Hall-of-Fame coach Pat Summitt, who won eight national titles with Tennessee. He learned coaching at his mother knee, went and coached AAU programs while a student at UT, and spent two years at Marquette as an assistant before replacing Teresa Weatherspoon as head coach.
But all of that blew up on Thursday, which leaves the question, “How did Louisiana Tech get it so wrong?”
For me, it wasn’t the behavior of Tyler Summitt that is at issue here. That should be left up to him and his spouse, as well as the trust (or lack thereof) remaining in the player he got pregnant.
Instead, I look at the university and its lack of judgment when it comes to the hiring and dismissal of coaches. Louisiana Tech knows that its women’s basketball team is a gold mine when it comes to publicity for the university as well as an economic engine for Ruston, a town of about 20,000 located in the north-central part of the state.
Louisiana Tech won its last national championship in 1988, but still had consistent win totals in the 30s until 2005. That year, a 20-10 season sent head coach Chris Long off to Oklahoma State.
Chris Long, the next coach, was fired before the 2009 season ended. The team was 12-11 before the firing, but responded with a 9-2 record when Weatherspoon took over for the conference tournament and a departure from the postseason in the WNIT second round.
Weatherspoon, in turn, was let go after two consecutive losing seasons — the first losing seasons in the history of the program.
The firing of Weatherspoon, for me, was a panic button. Her bona fides, even with a losing record, were worth keeping her as coach as long as the team was competitive, played hard, and received support from the university and team boosters.
Now, as for the recently-fired Tyler Summitt. According to reports written in the early days of his coaching tenure at Louisiana Tech, he came prepared with a 90-day training plan for the preseason, as well as detailed dossiers of key players on the Tech roster and their tendencies.
Summitt obviously knew how to get the job. The execution portion of it, regrettably, was not much better than in the last nine Techster seasons. In the last five years, Louisiana Tech has failed to reach the 20-win mark.
To me, that’s not coaching, but the failure of the Louisiana Tech athletic department to realize that legacy and big names are no guarantee of success in the current climate of women’s basketball.
Think about the great schools supporting women’s basketball over the years. A lot of teams are not in Division I anymore — Delta State, Cheyney State University, Federal City College (now the University of the District of Columbia) and Immaculata College.
Others, such as Old Dominion, Duke, North Carolina, and even the formerly unbeatable Texas and Tennessee teams have fallen on hard times in comparison to their past successes.
There is a shift going on in women’s basketball. Even though Connecticut has won the last four championships, the schools rivaling them have institutional knowledge of how to win national titles. Syracuse (lacrosse, field hockey), Washington (rowing, softball), and Oregon State (baseball) were in the women’s Final Four this year.
And as we mentioned on Wednesday, winning a national championship as a university gives its entire roster of participants — players, coaches, support staff — a knowledge that can make over an entire organization.
So, after Thursday’s shocking events, if Louisiana Tech’s athletic administration wasn’t in panic mode before, it certainly is now.