Pat Summitt was going to be the coach emeritus of Tennessee women’s basketball whether or not that title ever was bestowed upon her.
A career that lasted 38 years, included a record 1,098 victories with eight national championships and a perfect 39-0 campaign is not one that easily would be forgotten. Nor is it likely to be surpassed by any coach to come at UT or anywhere else.
With that kind of record she is, was and always will be coaching royalty. No question about it.
The university simply made it official with last week’s announcement that Summitt turned the program over to her long-time, faithful assistant Holly Warlick. It was a seamless transition that presumably was in the works for eight months, ever since Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
And it didn’t matter whether you were a fan of Summitt, the University of Tennessee, women’s basketball or even athletics in general. In light of recent events within the university and throughout the country, this was a satisfying and fitting conclusion for someone who has maintained a sizable public profile for some time.
Too often of late, coaches, including some of the most revered in all of college athletics, have created messy exits for themselves or were shown the door in decidedly unceremonious fashion.
Most recently, of course, was Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino. This seemingly intelligent and unquestionably accomplished individual thought it was prudent to give a job on his staff to his lover, who happened to be half his age. When a motorcycle accident threatened to bring his personal life to light, he lied.
One would think he had learned something from the case of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who until recently was regarded as a bastion of virtue and morality in the sometimes seedy world of college football. Tressel too told a lie — or more than one — and had to resign or be fired from a job that figured to be his for as long as he wanted.
So long, Jim.
Even genuine status as a legend guarantees nothing these days. Just look to Joe Paterno, whose 46 years as head football coach at Penn State meant little against the weight of public opinion created by the alleged crimes of one of his assistants. Penn State officials couldn’t figure a way to treat him with any sort of dignity, so they fired him with a phone call and before they could attempt to make things right, he died.
Rest in peace, Joe.
On a smaller scale, Tennessee has not been immune to these sorts of developments. Lane Kiffin revealed himself as a smarmy little coward when he conducted one of the worst press conferences in history upon his decision to bail on the football program after one season. Anyone with true courage of his convictions would have made his case calmly and clearly at that moment. Kiffin did not.
Good riddance, Lane.
Former basketball coach Bruce Pearl, one of the university’s most popular coaches in any sport in recent years, did himself in with lies. Much like Tressel, when asked about possible rules violations his instinct was to spew untruths. It cost him not only his job, but also possibly his career.
See you later (maybe), Bruce.
To be sure, this was not exactly the way Summitt wanted to go out. Her illness forced her hand and probably sped up the timetable for her departure from day-to-day coaching activities.
Her legacy, though, remains tightly woven within the fabric of the program and she remains involved in her new capacity, which — it should be noted — is not simply ceremonial. It comes with a job description.
Well done, Pat.