Pat Summitt, who won a record 1,098 games in 38 years as Tennessee women’s basketball coach, died Tuesday at age 64. Along the way, she won her sixth of eight NCAA championships at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena in 1998, and beat Kansas in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, her final victory as head coach. Here is The Star’s coverage of Summitt’s Vols from those games.
Perfect Tenn.: Vols go 39-0 in title run
Here’s Joe Posnanski’s column that appeared in the March 30, 1998, editions of The Kansas City Star, the day after Tennessee beat Louisiana Tech 93-75 in the NCAA championship game at Kemper Arena:
They leaned to an embrace, one of those slow-motion, soft-music-in-the-background, long-lost-friends-in-an-airport embraces, and that’s when Chamique Holdsclaw turned away. She shook her head. She looked her coach hard in the eyes. She said, “I’m not hugging you.”
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And Holdsclaw walked away, leaving Tennessee coach Pat Summitt standing there, arms outstretched, eyes blinking, vulnerable. Summitt’s Tennessee, starring Chamique Holdsclaw, had just played the game of the ages, a whirling, twirling, blowout appropriate for the greatest women’s team that has ever played, a 93-75 victory over Louisiana Tech in the NCAA championship game fit to consummate this undefeated, unchallenged, unprecedented season.
“That,” Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore would say, “is the greatest women’s basketball team I’ve ever seen.”
Still, what did it matter until the hug between the greatest coach and the greatest player, Summitt and Holdsclaw, the combination that has changed women’s basketball forever?
They are so different from each other. Summitt is so intense, so focused, so preposterously driven that even Sunday night, in the second half of a game long over, this crazed woman stomped about, hounded referees, yanked Holdsclaw from the game and ripped into her. “What are you doing?” Summitt screamed at Holdsclaw, veins popping in her forehead.
Holdsclaw looked away. She did not listen. “No, I’m pretty used to getting my butt chewed out, “ Holdsclaw would say. “It makes me a better player. I don’t even listen when she says good things.”
Holdsclaw is so calm, so weary, so doggone bored by the whole thing. She’s heard the screams, the cheers, the boos, all of it. She does not watch women’s basketball. The game, she says, bores her. There is nothing left for her to learn. She has won seven championships in a row now, four at Christ The King High School, three at Tennessee, she’s considered by most the greatest women’s college player ever and she’s not even a senior yet. It’s not easy to be the greatest. There’s nobody to talk to.
When Sunday’s game ended, Holdsclaw danced a little and then shrugged. “I’m happy for my teammates,” she said. “Me, I’ve been here before.”
Yes, they are so different, and they have clashed again and again, Summitt trying to ignite Holdsclaw, Holdsclaw trying to calm Summitt, a lot of love, a lot of hate, Sunday night was the pinnacle. Holdsclaw stepped to the floor, and she grabbed the game. From the first moment, it was hers. You know most nights, Holdsclaw only shows pieces of her brilliance, as if they’re prized possessions, but Sunday she showed everything, her scoring, her rebounding, her passing, her defense, but more than that, her will. She controlled the game with her mere presence, as only the greatest can do.
Yes, 13 minutes into the game, Tennessee led by 25, Holdsclaw controlling the game with strings. She made the no-look pass, made a fading 18-foot jump shot, dribbled through the defense, she did whatever she wanted, a virtuoso performance, and the game itself became unimportant. The score did not matter. It’s not often that you get to see perfection.
“She knows when to make plays,” teammate Semeka Randall would say. “She’s like Michael Jordan.”
So, Holdsclaw pulled back in the second half. So what? It was only natural. She needs a challenge, needs to be pushed, needs a reason to be great. She floated, breezed, and of course that enraged Summitt, who does not need a reason to be great, just a place. Holdsclaw tells the story about when she was a freshman, and she scored a bunch of points, grabbed a bunch of rebounds, pretty much dominated, and when it ended Summitt pulled her aside and screamed “You are the reason we lost tonight.”
So, Summitt again pulled Holdsclaw aside, second half, with the game long over, and Summitt screamed that Holdsclaw was letting the game get away, Summitt stomped around, glared that assassin’s glare. Holdsclaw stared at the ceiling, looked at the crowd, glanced to the floor.
Holdsclaw returned to the game, finished it off. With a few seconds left, Holdsclaw was called to the bench, and the Tennessee fans wailed, the teammates stood, “Rocky Top” played.
Pat Summitt stood by the bench with her arms out. Holdsclaw shook her head. She turned her back. She hugged her teammates, her friends.
Then suddenly, Chamique Holdsclaw smiled big. She whirled around. Pat Summitt smiled big. And they hugged hard to the echo of “Rocky Top,” orange pompons shaking behind them, women’s basketball again theirs and theirs alone.
“I’m sorry to see the season over, it’s been so much fun,” Summitt would say.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Holdsclaw would say. “I need a rest.”
Summitt savors crown
Mechelle Voepel captured this scene of Summitt and her son after the championship game:
Tyler Summitt, wearing a national championship T-shirt about seven sizes too big for him, bounded down the hallway on the way to Tennessee’s locker room.
Pat Summitt, walking behind surrounded by TV cameras, laughed at her son.
“Hey,” she said, “are you a happy boy?”
Hey, is this a happy coach? Summitt won her sixth national title Sunday with a 93-75 victory over Louisiana Tech.
It came 11 years to the day of her first title, which also came over Tech. Not that Summitt spends any time counting that stuff up.
Not long after the last piece of net had been snipped, she was talking about next season. “We’ve got a couple post players coming in who will help us,” she said. “I think it will allow us to get even better.”
Good heavens. Better than 39-0?
“She’s so competitive,” said her husband, R.B. Summitt (R.B. and Pat divorced in 2008), wearing his familiar white and orange oxford shirt and his familiar post-game smile. “I think one day she’ll sit down and reflect on it when it’s all done.”
And when will that be? As happy and relaxed as Summitt looked after the game, don’t be surprised if she’s still racking them up by the time Tyler is too big for that shirt.
A year ago, Summitt wasn’t quite like this. Her team had lost 10 games going into the NCAA Tournament. She admitted at one point then that she wondered whether Tennessee would even be in the tournament.
But this year, she enjoyed every minute.
“They were two different championship runs,” Summitt said. “But they never get old.”
Summitt still in charge of the Vols
Summitt announced she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2011 but continued coaching for one more season. The Vols beat Kansas in the 2012 NCAA Sweet 16 in Des Moines, Iowa, which turned out to be Summitt’s final victory — No. 1,098, more than any Division I coach, men’s or women’s.
Taber Spani, a Kansas City native who is the daughter of former Chiefs linebacker Gary Spani, was a member of the 2011-12 Vols.
Former Star sportswriter Randy Covitz wrote this story on Summitt, which appeared March 25, 2012, the day after Tennessee’s 84-73 victory over KU:
Ten minutes before tipoff Saturday, Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt walked onto the court at Wells Fargo Arena and the crowd rose as one.
Kansas coach Bonnie Hendrickson gave Summitt a hug while the fans from four schools gave her a standing ovation.
Summitt took a seat between assistant coaches Holly Warlick and Mickie DeMoss. But not for long. When the Vols fell behind Kansas early in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game, Summitt stalked the sidelines shouted instructions, took charge of the huddle during timeouts and sent in substitutions,
Summitt, 59, has taken on a reduced role on a daily basis since she was diagnosed last summer with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type.
She moves a little slower than during her run of a record eight national championships from 1987 to 2008, but on game day, Summitt is still in charge, just as she has been for 1,098 wins after Saturday’s 84-73 victory over Kansas.
“We’ve kind of got this system down, “ said Warlick, who oversees the daily supervision of the basketball office and handles most formal pregame and postgame interviews.
“Pat is still the head coach. It’s almost like Pat and I have switched roles. As a team, as a staff, we all work really well together. I’m up (here), but there’s three head coaches sitting behind me. I’m the only one who hasn’t been a head coach. It’s a group effort, and it’s really worked out.”
Warlick is a 27-year veteran of the staff and former Tennessee player; assistant coach Dean Lockwood, in his eighth season with the Volunteers and former men’s head coach at Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State and Northwood (Mich.) University; and DeMoss is a 20-year member of the staff who was head women’s coach at Kentucky for four years.
“Pat has always surrounded herself with very talented people, whether it’s players or staff members, “ DeMoss said. “Fortunately, we’re a veteran staff, so we know when to step in and pick up. We know when to step back.
“Dean and Holly and I work well together; nobody is trying to jockey for a position. We feed off each other, we know when somebody needs a little help, we know when to step back ... try not to talk over each other. The fact we’ve all been in the game a long time, it’s allowed us to navigate it a little better.”
There’s not much precedent for this situation. When Summitt revealed her illness, she said she wanted to continue to coach, that working would be the best medicine.
“Some days, she’s more involved, more energetic, than others, “ DeMoss said. “I think she picks and chooses how to expend her energy. She’s been smart about when she does and when she doesn’t.
“At any time, she’s still the boss. At any time, she can tell us to sit down and shut up.”
That’s what happened in a second-round win over DePaul. The Volunteers led 28-23 at halftime, and Summitt wasn’t happy.
“She gave one of her classic Pat pep talks, “ Volunteers guard Taber Spani said. “She’s still Pat; she still motivates us like no other. We still look at her as our leader and our coach and have the utmost respect for her.”
No one is sure how much longer Summitt will continue as a part-time head coach or whether her condition is worsening.
“I think she’s doing great, I really do,” DeMoss said. “Considering everything ... every coach in the country is getting a little worn down at this time. But she’s got good energy; she’s still doing her puzzles and she reads the newspaper every day. She didn’t do that when she was full-time coaching.
“You give her a challenge, and she meets it head-on. The media stuff sometimes wear on her, and we’re trying to limit what her mental energy is and let her focus on the team.”
That’s how the players like it.
“Definitely, the day-to-day stuff has changed, and it looks a lot different (to the outside),” said Spani, who is from Kansas City. “But Coach Summit still has her fingerprints on everything. Her voice is being heard ...
“Just for us to see what she goes through on a day-to-day basis, that’s difficult. But her courage, and the way she’s chosen to fight this out has inspired us.”