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BULLETIN: June 28, 2016 — Pat Summitt, 1952-2016

Before Pat Head Summitt became the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee-Martin, coaching positions for women’s basketball programs were not given over to former players, but to educators or people with advanced degrees in physical education.

That’s because coaching women’s collegiate athletics in the mid-70s was a part-time job; in order to put food on the table, you had to teach one- or two-credit courses at the university or have outside work.

Summitt was originally hired as an educator; she was a graduate student when she was given the Tennessee head coaching job at the age of 22, with extra duties as van driver and launderer of team uniforms. She made $250 a week for her coaching stipend, and there were no NCAA championships to win.

But 38 years later, Summitt would be making more than $2 million per season, coaching full-time with all the trappings of the U.S. collegiate level. This included a travel budget to recruit the best players — and a pilot who would meet her request that her son Tyler be born in the state of Tennessee after she went into labor during one of her trips. She won eight NCAA championships and 1,098 games. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2000 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2013.

Behind her came hundreds of former basketball players who applied for, and got, head coaching jobs in the NCAA. Many, of course, were her former players.

Summitt brought the term “player’s coach” to women’s sports. She felt equally comfortable teaching the game and coaching it, going about her business from the mindset of a player as well as an academic. It showed in the 100 percent graduation rate of the players who stayed with her for four years.

As much as Summitt is going to be remembered for the Lady Vols’ successes over the years, she is also going to be remembered as being a proud daughter of the state of Tennessee. She was born in Clarksville, coached at Tennessee-Martin and, famously, in Knoxville.

I think that, more than anything else, made her so beloved in the Volunteer State. She attended UT football games and befriended Peyton Manning. She attended men’s basketball teams and sang “Rocky Top.” She and the then-men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl leaned heavily on each other for advice.

But I think there’s one more thing that she will be remembered for. Last year, Tennessee changed athletic suppliers. And as such, the university got rid of the practice of gender-specific nicknames, calling every one of their teams “Volunteers.”

That is, except, the women’s basketball team. Summitt created that brand, and not even a multibillion-dollar corporation or political sentiments could change it. And may that name and logo remain forever as a tribute.

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