Pat Summitt has been the head coach at Tennessee longer than I have been alive. She's been the head coach for so long, she actually predates the NCAA women's division (women's sports used to be managed by the AIAW). She's been coaching longer than the NCAA has recognized a women's basketball national champion, and she's still won one eight times.
I can only pay her the highest compliment I can pay an opposing coach: I've hated her ever livin' guts. I hated her evil glare, I hated her teams' ferocity, I hated that shade of orange, but mainly, I only hated one thing: she won. And she won a lot.
Pat Summitt, in many ways, is women's college basketball. She won eight national titles, went to 18 Final Fours, won 16 SEC regular season titles to match her 16 SEC tournament titles, and she won over 1000 basketball games.
It is hard to compare her to anyone in any sport, much less basketball. She is as close to John Wooden as we have had in the modern game. To call her iconic seems to miss the mark by several orders of magnitude. She is the face of Tennessee's program, and of women's college basketball. Great players came and went, but Summitt seemed to be eternal.
She was offered the men's Tennessee job. Twice. She turned it down both times because, well, it's not as good of a job. She built a powerhouse spanning nearly four decades, and her accomplishments almost border on comical.
She's been to every NCAA tournament, and had a #1 seed 20 times. She won 109 NCAA tournament games. No other coach has even been in 100 games, much less won that many. She has THIRTY FIVE 20-win seasons and a mere twenty 30-win seasons. And so on.
Most impressively, every single one of her players who completed their eligibility has graduated or is in the process of completing her degree requirements. We sometimes forget coaches are supposed to be teachers. Summitt won and won, but her players didn't just pass through the program.
This is also demonstrated by the fact she doesn't so much have a coaching tree as a coaching forest. Forty-five of her former players, including our very own Nikki Caldwell, went on to become coaches. Women's college basketball is very much the Game Summitt Built.
She routinely kicked our asses. I'm still scarred by the 2007 title game in which Tennessee just seemed to will LSU to lose, despite a less talented roster (not that she was cranking out scrubs or anything). You could never let up, never count her out. Tennessee came to win, every single time.
She made the game better. She made LSU better. She made college basketball better. And as she steps down to continue her fight with Alzheimer's, I can't help but feel a sense of loss. An era is literally ending today, not just at Tennessee, but throughout college sports.
I always hated her. But I loved her, too. People throw around the term "legend" too freely these days. Well, Pat Summitt really is one. She is better at coaching basketball than you and I will likely be at anything in our entire lives.
For the first time in her career, I stand to applaud her. Thank you so much for everything. It was an honor to watch your career.