UT MARTIN PIONEER AND COACHING LEGEND PAT HEAD SUMMITT PASSES AWAY AT AGE 64
June 28, 2016
MARTIN, Tenn. – Pat Head Summitt, whose legendary collegiate coaching path was molded after a trailblazing playing career at the University of Tennessee at Martin, passed away this morning in Knoxville.
Summitt, who celebrated her 64th birthday earlier this month, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2011 and had fought a courageous battle against the disease over the last five years.
“It is truly a sad day for UT Martin and for the women’s basketball community,” said Skyhawk interim athletics director Kevin McMillan, who has also served as the school’s head women’s basketball coach since 2009. “Through the years, I developed a friendship with Coach Summitt that I valued very much. She always knew what was going on at UT Martin and she loved her alma mater. Her impact here – and on women’s basketball – is immeasurable.”
Summitt played basketball at UT Martin for head coach Nadine Gearin from 1970-74. She led the then-Lady Pacers to a combined 64-30 record, two AIAW district tournament championships, one AIAW Tennessee state tournament title, one AIAW regional championship and an appearance in the 1972 AIAW national tournament.
A native of Ashland City, Tenn., Summitt left UT Martin as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,405 points. Despite the fact that she was limited to just seven games during her senior season, she still ranks in the top-10 of five different single-season or career record categories.
Summitt was co-captain of the USA National team in 1976, earning a silver medal in the Olympics. Taking over as head coach in time for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she guided Team USA to its first-ever gold medal in the sport of women’s basketball.
Literally months after Summitt graduated from UT Martin with a degree in physical education, she took over as head women’s basketball coaching at the University of Tennessee in 1974. It was there where she established herself as one of the best coaches in the history of basketball.
Over 38 seasons, Summitt posted a 1,098-208 record for an .840 winning percentage. Her 1,098 victories are the most for any coach in Division-I basketball history, currently 55 more than Duke head men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. She helped guide the Lady Volunteers to eight NCAA national championships and a total of 32 Southeastern Conference tournament and regular season titles. In addition, Summitt compiled a 100 percent graduation rate for all Lady Vols who exhausted their eligibility at Tennessee.
In 2009, the Sporting News named Summitt the 11th greatest coach of all-time in any sport, as she was the only female to appear on their top-50 list. In 1999, she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and she followed that with an inclusion into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000. Her 112 NCAA Tournament wins and 18 NCAA Final Four appearances are still the most in college basketball history.
Fittingly, one of Summitt’s final games as head coach of the Lady Vols was against UT Martin in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. In April of that year, she was assigned the permanent title of head coach emeritus at Tennessee before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama – the country’s highest civilian award.
Summitt and her son Tyler formed the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund in November 2011, three months after she announced her diagnosis of early onset dementia. Soon thereafter, a “We Back Pat” campaign swept the nation and has helped raise awareness to cure dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Pat Summitt’s legacy as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time is assured,” UT Martin interim chancellor Dr. Robert M. Smith said. “More importantly for her friends at UT Martin is how she pioneered the path for female student-athletes and assured them opportunities they enjoy today in sports and in life. There will be those who might imitate but none will emulate what she accomplished. We honor the memory of our friend, UT Martin graduate and women’s basketball legend.”
Summitt’s legacy will live on at UT Martin for years to come, as she was a charter member of the school’s Hall of Fame in 1983. A statue of herself, her former coach Gearin and her former women’s athletics director Bettye Giles was unveiled on campus during Homecoming weekend in 2012. Her retired No. 55 jersey hangs in the rafters of the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center, overseeing where both Skyhawk basketball teams play on Pat Head Summitt Court. In 1997, a street on the south end of the UT Martin campus was officially named Pat Head Summitt Drive. In 2014, the UT Board of Trustees also approved the name of the “Pat Head Summitt Chi Omega House”, which is slated to open in the near future.