KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Pat Summitt, University of Tennessee Head Women’s Basketball Coach Emeritus and the winningest coach in NCAA hoops history, was honored with the Keith Jackson Eternal Flame Award by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) on Friday afternoon.
Joan Cronan, women’s athletics director emeritus, consultant and advisor to the chancellor, accepted the award on Summitt’s behalf during the Special Awards Luncheon at the 2013 CoSIDA Convention at the Orlando (Fla.) World Center Marriott. Summitt is the ninth recipient of the honor since it was established in 1998.
Serving as head coach emeritus at UT since ending her legendary career at the helm on April 18, 2012, Summitt was previously honored by CoSIDA in 2007 with the Dick Enberg Award. The Eternal Flame Award is named for longtime broadcaster Keith Jackson and recognizes an individual or an organization that has made a lasting contribution to intercollegiate athletics, demonstrating a long and consistent commitment to excellence and support of CoSIDA and its mission.
In addition to Jackson, the initial honoree in 1998, other winners of the Eternal Flame Award have included the GTE Corporation in 1999, Dick Enberg (NBC/CBS) in 2001, Rosa Gatti (ESPN) in 2003, Jim Albright (Kodak) in 2005, Dick Vitale (ESPN) in 2008, Myles Brand (NCAA) in 2009 and Bob Condron (U.S. Olympic Committee) in 2012.
During 38 seasons at Tennessee, Summitt produced a record of 1,098-208 (.840) and led her Lady Volunteers to 18 NCAA Final Fours, eight NCAA titles, 32 combined SEC championships and 31 NCAA tournament appearances.
After accepting the job as a graduate assistant in Knoxville and unexpectedly taking over the program at the age of 22 just prior to the 1974-75 season, Summitt also developed 12 U.S. Olympians, 21 WBCA All-Americans and 44 professional basketball players, including 15 first-round selections in the WNBA Draft.
During the early years of her career, she also took time to help the 1976 U.S. Olympic women’s team earn a silver medal in Montreal as a player, and she directed the 1984 American squad to gold in Los Angeles, where she was carried off the floor by her joyous team.
A testament to her commitment to developing the total student-athlete, all 122 players under her watch who completed their eligibility at UT graduated. Ten of her players earned a combined 13 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors through the years, two were named CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year and one was selected to the CoSIDA All-Time Academic All-America Team.
Nearly 50 of her former players followed her into the coaching profession. Many others are making a difference around the country, thanks to their UT degrees and the code of conduct instilled in them by their mentor.
What can’t be quantified, though, is the number of people Summitt has impacted outside her program through the years. Her effect on sports and American society as a whole wasn’t lost on President Barack Obama, just before he draped the Presidential Medal of Freedom around her neck at the White House on May 29, 2012.
Summitt was honored that day along with 12 other individuals who had made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The UT coach was in the company of such dignitaries as our nation’s first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, treasured musician Bob Dylan and astronaut John Glenn, the first man to orbit the Earth and later a U.S. senator.
"When I think about my two daughters who are tall and gifted, knowing that [because of] folks like Coach Summitt, they are standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong,” President Obama said prior to awarding Summitt the medal. “Then I understand the impact that these people have had extends beyond me. It will continue for generations to come.”
Certainly, Summitt had a coaching career worthy of numerous awards. To cite a few, she was a seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year, eight-time SEC Coach of the Year and 2011 Sports Illustrated Sportswoman of the Year, sharing that season’s honor with Sportsman of the Year Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. In April 2000, she was named Naismith Coach of the Century, while The Sporting News in 2009 included her as one the “50 Greatest Coaches of All-Time,” ranking her 11th in that club and the only woman on the list.
Her accomplishments earned her admission into no fewer than eight halls of fame. She’s enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame and the National Association for Sport and Physical Fitness Hall of Fame. She also was inducted into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Lady Vol Hall of Fame and the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. She will be inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in Switzerland on June 19.
At age 59, and with her hall of fame career still in progress, Summitt received a stunning medical diagnosis from doctors at the Mayo Clinic. On Aug. 23, 2011, she shared that news, revealing that she was battling early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. That announcement sent shockwaves through the sports world.
While Summitt was understandably floored by the reality of the situation, it didn’t take her long to do what she always does -- take on the next challenge armed with a purpose and a passion. She did so aided by the support of her university, staff and team.
During the 2011-12 season, which turned out to be her final year on the Tennessee bench, Summitt and her staff guided the Lady Vols to a 27-9 overall record, a second-straight SEC tourney title and an appearance in the NCAA Elite 8. Along the way, Summitt was honored during pregame introductions with standing ovations, and “We Back Pat” shirts became commonplace as the campaign went viral via social media.
Upon the season’s conclusion, Summitt took time to reflect as well as look ahead. She then made a decision that many feared and hoped wouldn’t occur. She relinquished her duties as head coach on April 18, 2012.
By then, dozens of organizations had presented, or wanted to present, awards to her or name one in her honor. One of the most visible was the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which she received at the 2012 ESPYs while joined by son Tyler Summitt and friend Peyton Manning. Among other honors, she also received the Billie Jean King Legacy Award from the USTA, the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award, NACDA’s Michael J. Cleary Merit of Honor Award, the USBWA’s Most Courageous Award and the Alzheimer’s Association Sargent & Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award.
"It is extremely difficult to adequately express what Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, the sport of basketball, and the growth of women's athletics nationally," said UT Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart at the news conference announcing her decision to step away from her coaching duties. "She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting. Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt.
Summitt, as she stepped down, passed the torch of tradition to her long-time assistant, friend and former player, Holly Warlick. She did so by symbolically placing her coaching whistle around Warlick’s neck during the news conference at UT’s Thompson-Boling Arena, where the court is aptly named “The Summitt.”
"I've loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role," said Summitt. "I support Holly Warlick being named the next head coach, and I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward. I would like to emphasize that I fully intend to continue working as head coach emeritus, mentoring and teaching life skills to our players, and I will continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer's through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.”
And that she certainly has done, launching a highly-visible onslaught against Alzheimer’s via her foundation as well as the “We Back Pat” initiative. The organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and former Vol and current NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and his wife, Ashley, added momentum to the campaign by committing $500,000 to the Pat Summit Foundation on April 11, 2013.
Manning also jumped at the opportunity to serve as an honorary co-chair on Summitt’s foundation to lend a helping hand.
"I have such great respect and admiration for Coach Summitt as a mentor, coach and friend from my days as a Tennessee Volunteer and throughout my pro career," Manning said. "I hope my role as honorary co-chair can bring attention to the important mission of defeating Alzheimer's through research for a cure, support services for patients and caregivers, and building education and awareness."
PSF Advisory Board Chairman James A. Haslam II, perhaps, said it best when referring to Summitt’s pursuit of victory in basketball and against Alzheimer’s as well as the role the Mannings’ generosity will play in that fight.
"As we all know, Pat Summitt has been a success at everything she has ever taken on, and we truly believe the Mannings' gift and our efforts with Pat's team will make a huge difference on the national platform for Alzheimer's. Together, We Will Win!"
Those who know firsthand about Summitt’s incredible resolve and wear her orange and purple #FierceCourage wristbands don’t doubt that for a second.