Pat Summitt, Winningest Coach in College Basketball History, Dies At 64

by Robyn Smith

Pat Summitt was an incredible person. Known for her strength and her intensity, she had an amazing and influencial career in basketball. Today, she died surrounded by loved ones in a nursing care facility in Knoxville, Tennessee. Though BUST doesn’t usually cover sports, we decided to give a shoutout to this special lady.

Summitt became head coach of the Lady Volunteers at University of Tennessee-Knoxville when she was just 22. When she wasn’t coaching, she was competing on the U.S. team in the Olympics (1976) or getting her master’s degree.

As a coach, she was known for her stare—one that could freeze a player in her tracks.

coaching pat

“I guess I got that from my father,” she told NPR. “He—my late father was—he was a man that was very focused and driven. And I grew up on a dairy farm. So, you know, cows never—they don’t take a day off on the dairy farm. So we milked at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., and he just really—he demanded a lot from the five children, but in a good way. I don’t think I would have this work ethic or this drive, or probably the stare. But with that, I think that just represents my focus and my intensity.”

In 2012, a year after she was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, President Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Summitt put women’s basketball on the map. Her success made the whole sport more successful, and added to the esteem and legitimacy of women’s sports across the U.S.

According to the New York Times, Summitt won “eight national basketball championships at the University of Tennessee and more games than any other Division I college coach, male or female.”

“I had to drive the van when I first started coaching,” Summitt told Time in a 2009 interview. “One time, for a road game, we actually slept in the other team’s gym the night before. We had mats, we had our little sleeping bags. When I was a player at the University of Tennessee-Martin, we played at Tennessee Tech for three straight games, and we didn’t wash our uniforms. We only had one set. We played because we loved the game. We didn’t think anything about it.”

She won the silver medal as a player in the ’76 Olympics and then won gold as a coach in ’84. She finished her career with an 84 percent winning record. In 38 years of coaching, she never had a losing season.

Summitt’s eighth and final NCAA championship, in 2008,  ended as a 64-48 victory against Stanford University.

coach pat

“I stood under another soft, dense rain of confetti,” she wrote in her 2013 book, Sum it Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective, written with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins. “Had I known I’d never see another Final Four as a competitor, I might have taken more careful note of my thoughts. All I remember is feeling blaze-eyed with euphoria, and yet snow-blinded by all the colorful paper that drifted around me.

“Those fluttering bits of brightness seemed so reflective of the countless inspired moments our players had given me, a great torrent of victories. More than three decades of potent emotions seemed to be cascading down on my head all at once.”

Summitt is survived by her son, Tyler Summitt.

Photos via Facebook.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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