UT coach keeps team at summit
Summitt remains driven to win big after decades of peak success
Pat Summitt won't lie about it. She admits she is as intense and demanding as she looks on the sideline during a Tennessee Lady Vols basketball game. She yells and screams. She chides and challenges.
But there's another side to Summitt that people don't see.
The side that gives a tremendous amount of time to charities and to her fellow coaches. It's the side of a family woman, a wife and a soccer mom. A woman, her friends and colleagues say, who has a sense of humor and loves to have a good time.
"It's interesting to listen to her sorority sisters tell stories about her when she was younger," said assistant Nikki Caldwell, who played for Summitt 10 years ago. "Sometimes it's hard to imagine that being Pat that they're talking about, but she's like everybody else. This is a woman who talks to her mom every day. Every day."
And then there are those Kodak moments when Summitt's 13-year-old son, Ross Tyler, appears.
"Sometimes they'll be sitting courtside, and she'll have her arm around him, and they'll be having a mother-son talk. She just lights up when they're together," Caldwell said.
But it's the other side that Summitt can't escape. The high-strung person that is driven to win, win and win. A drive that she possessed long before she became the 22-year-old coach of the Lady Vols in 1974.
"I hated losing," Summitt said. "I still hate to lose."
Maybe that's why Summitt has never had a losing season during her 30 seasons at Tennessee. Her teams have won six NCAA championships and 13 Southeastern Conference titles while compiling an 851-166 record (an .837 winning percentage). It averages out to 28.7 wins and 5.5 losses a year. Since the 1984-85 season, none of her teams have won fewer than 21 games.
Summitt's last team to win a national championship, the 1997-98 squad, was 39-0.
What Summitt has done in Knoxville, Tenn., over the years is build a Goliath. She has turned the Lady Vols into one of the nation's two premier women's basketball programs, and one of the most dominating programs in college athletics. Tennessee is making its 15th Final Four appearance.
"The thing that separates Tennessee from the rest is longevity," said Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss, who spent 18 years as an assistant to Summitt. "It's remarkable what they've done year-in and year-out."
While Summitt has constructed the women's program that everyone wants to emulate, she's beginning to sense that its success has also made it one that so many love to hate.
"In a way, I think it has," Summitt said. "Maybe it's just more of people cheering for the underdog. The hard part about it is the more competitiveness brings out the negative. I find that hard to take. "
Deep down, Summitt realizes it has become more than just rooting against the favorite. The woman who has helped make women's college basketball what it is today has long been hearing about the tactics used by other coaches who also are battling Tennessee for some of the nation's top prep recruits.
"It happens a lot in recruiting," DeMoss said. "They can't say anything positive about their program and they try to bring Tennessee down to their level. (Summitt) gives back to coaches and the profession, and she takes it personal. I took it personal when I was there, but I tell her not to take it personal."
Said Caldwell: "Yes, it bothers her. What bothers her most is when it's attacking her family; we are her family."
Summitt grew up in a close-knit family on a farm in Henritta, Tenn. She attended Tennessee-Martin, where she played basketball and volleyball. In the fourth game of her senior basketball season, she tore an ACL.
"I remember the doctor telling me and my dad that they could operate on the knee or just let it heal with time," Summitt said. "And I remember my dad saying to the doctor, 'You don't understand, she's going to be an Olympian.' He saw more potential in me than I did. That was good, because it challenged me to get busy with my rehab."
She went on to rehabilitate the knee and play for Billie Moore on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team that won the silver medal in Montreal. She was the co-captain of the team.
"She didn't play the type of role she played before because of the injury," said Moore, who remembers telling Summitt she'd need to lose 10-15 pounds and be best in the best shape of her life to make the team.
"I think she lost 20 to 25 pounds," Moore said. "That told me a lot about her. When she sets her mind to do something, she's willing to do whatever it takes. She loves to win, but she's willing to prepare herself more than most of her opponents."
To this day, the toughness and tunnel vision Summitt displayed as a player are still with her. When basketball season begins, there aren't too many other things that can grab her attention.
R.B. Summitt, Pat's husband of nearly 24 years and president of a Knoxville bank, said: "I don't talk much banking at home. It's mostly basketball."
Just how focused can Summitt be? Real focused, said R.B.
Point in case: R.B. decided to get rid of his car and get an SUV. He brought it home and parked it in the family's two-car garage. When Pat got home from practice, she parked her car next to the new SUV and walked into the house.
"We'll, what'd you think about it?" R.B. asked.
"Think about what?"
"Did you park in the garage? And you didn't see anything different?"
"There she was eight feet away, and she didn't see another car that sat several feet higher than hers," R.B. said. "She just has an intense focus about her."
And Summitt wants her players to be the same way.
"It takes a certain kind of person to play here," said Holly Warlick, who played for Summitt and has been one of her assistants for 19 years. "She gets on you, but she does a lot more praising. She's learned over the years to motivate each player differently."
After 30 seasons, there isn't much left for Summitt to accomplish. A motivational speaker who has written two books, Summitt earns nearly $1 million a year. She's already been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball and Sports Foundation halls of fame, and has been selected for countless coach of the year awards.
Moore considers Summitt to be one of the fortunate ones.
"Very few get an opportunity to find something they're passionate about," Moore said. "She's very lucky. She's found something she loves."