Lipscomb coaches are remembering former University of Tennessee women’s basketball legend Pat Summitt, winner of 1,098 games and eight NCAA championships, who died Tuesday at age 64 for her impact on women’s sports and on the coaching profession.
Greg Brown, head coach of the Lipscomb women’s basketball team, met Summitt through the late Don Meyer, former Bison men’s basketball team head coach. When he decided to make the move from the high school to college coaching ranks, Brown said he sought advice from Summitt about how to make the transition. That eventually led to Brown being added to the Lady Vol coaching staff from 2002-2004.
It provided a hands-on learning experience that had a profound impact on Brown’s coaching philosophy.
“Pat knew what she wanted and was very loyal to the people around her,” said Brown, who worked with post players and scouting while on Summitt’s coaching staff. “She was very generous with sharing what she knew about the game of basketball. She was the ultimate teacher. Her ability to teach transcended any gender or sport.”
Even more than learning the art of coaching, Brown said he witnessed Summitt’s ability to build relationships with others.
“As much as I’d love to be a better coach, I’d love to be able to connect like Pat could,” said Brown. “She had the ability to connect with her coaches, to connect with her players, to connect with the fans. As a result, she had the ability to get people to do more than they thought they could do on and off the court.”
“People became fans of Pat. Because they were fans of Pat they became Lady Vols fans and they became fans of women’s basketball,” he said. “She always seemed to have an entourage with her because she always liked to be surrounded by her friends.”
Brown recalls a time when he was travelling with his wife, Teresa, on a Lady Vols trip to Europe, and their infant son, Cole, became fussy.
“Cole was crying and doing what babies do, and Pat said, ‘Give me that boy,’” Brown recalled. “He immediately calmed down and just began to coo and smile. And she said, ‘Now, that’s how you parent.’ She was genuinely interested in us as people.”
What Brown says he will remember most about Summitt is not her successes on the court.
“The eight championships are not a true measure of her legacy,” he said. “It is the relationships she built and what she’s done for others.”
Lipscomb Athletics director Philip Hutcheson said Summitt had a huge impact on college basketball.
“She was all about excellence and results,” said Hutcheson, who met Summitt through Meyer’s basketball camps and coaching clinics. “Coach Summitt was all about learning and getting better. She was not one to complain or make excuses. She was a great coach, a great leader and a great mentor to many.”
Hutcheson recalled a Summitt story that he said reflects her true character.
“Year’s ago my college coach, Don Meyer, held a clinic for several hundred coaches,” he said. “Coach Summitt was the headline speaker. After it was over, we had a reception at Coach Meyer’s house for some of the coaches, donors and others who wanted to meet Coach Summitt.”
As the reception came to an end, Hutcheson was talking with a few of the guests that remained and wondered where Summitt was.
“We looked in the kitchen and there, standing at the sink up to her elbows in suds, was Coach Summitt,” he said. “She was the reason for the event and she was washing the dishes at her own party. Success leaves clues. And that was a big clue.”
Frank Bennett, associate athletic director for internal affairs and head coach of the Lipscomb women’s basketball team from 1979-2011, said that “no one has had the impact on women’s basketball that Pat had.”
“That impact is not only because of the championships she won,” said Bennett, “but because of who she was as a person. She was always open to share with others what she knew and was very humble.”
Bennett, who started his college coaching career a few years after Summitt began hers at Tennessee, built their programs in the early days of NCAA women’s basketball.
“When we began coaching, the NCAA hadn’t started to sponsor women’s sports,” Bennett recalled. “Pat was on the cutting edge at Tennessee and created a program that drew people to basketball and to women’s sports. She began to develop a following.”
“Her work ethic, passion, attitude of excellence and philosophy of developing the whole person reinforced what she wanted to accomplish,” he said. “I used her often as an example to our coaches and players. She was also very approachable as a fellow coach. She was very transparent and very real.”
Bison head coach Casey Alexander said he didn't know Summitt but that “her impact on the game, especially as a trailblazer in the women's game, is undeniable.”
“Coaches are best measured by the influence they have on their players and peers,” said Alexander. “Coach Summitt was as good as any coach any where.”
Brandon Rosenthal, head coach of the volleyball team, said Summitt’s influence is present throughout women’s sports.
“There’s a general misconception that you can’t be intense in women’s sports,” he said. “Coach Summitt helped change that perception. As a coach I was drawn to her and her coaching philosophy because of the expectations she set no matter the gender, no matter the sport.”
Although he never met Summitt personally, Rosenthal was a recipient of her genuine interest in others. After Summitt stepped down as head coach, Rosenthal sent her a copy of the book “Teammates Matter” by his friend Alan Williams along with a note.
“About eight months passed and one day a letter, a very personal letter, arrived in my mailbox from her,” he recalled. “She wrote about her thoughts related to the book and her philosophy. It just blew me away. Here was this giant in the sports world who took the time to send that note to me. It meant so much to me.”
Rosenthal said he admires Summitt’s work ethic and has incorporated that into the Lipscomb volleyball program.
“I have always admired people who work as hard as they can to accomplish their goals,” said Rosenthal. “Her philosophy was simple. ‘I’ll out work you.’ It’s a mindset that I’ve incorporated into my coaching philosophy. We might get beaten, but no team will out work us.”
Megan Rhodes Smith, assistant softball coach, was a member of the University of Tennessee softball team from 2004-2008. Even though she didn’t play for Summitt, Smith said she made an impact on her as a player and as a coach.
“At UT she was for everyone. It wasn’t just about how to promote basketball,” said Smith, a 2004 Lipscomb Academy graduate. “For her, it was always about how to support all sports.”
Smith recalled a time when the Tennessee softball team lost a close game. When the game ended, Summitt called the softball coach and said she wanted to meet with the team.
“So the next day, Coach Summitt had a meeting with us and told us what she had observed while watching us play in that game and what she thought we could do to get better. We were all just sitting there, sitting up as straight as we could, and listening to her. She commands attention when she talked to you,” said Smith.
“We just wanted to rise to the level she expected. We thought it was cool that she paid attention to our game.”
Summitt made time to meet with recruits from all sports, Smith remembered, and she was always ready when asked to speak to a group.
“She was prepared in life and knew what she stood for,” said Smith. “We all felt like she was our coach and we wanted to strive to be better because of her. She embodied what she believed in. She taught accountability in the big and little things. She also taught intensity — don’t go halfway into something. Give everything your full focus in all that you do.”
“She was willing to fight for more and what she believed in,” said Smith. “You just don’t find that very often anymore.”