Beyond The Lady Vols: The Reach of Pat Summitt’s Legacy

When Pat Summitt died in late June, the basketball world lost one of its most influential figures. Coach of University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols for 38 seasons, Summitt was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2011, but continued to coach through 2012. With her passing, the Lady Vols, and the players and fans she influenced, have only just begun to grapple with the great woman’s legacy.

What makes Summitt such a remarkable figure? A look at her history as a player and coach can help give us a sense of how Summitt changed the game as we know it.

A One Team Woman

Part of what makes Pat Summitt stand out was her deep devotion to her team. Summitt was named head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974 at the age of 21, and she never left her women behind. Though young, she quickly proved her strength as a coach, finishing her first season with 16 wins and 8 losses.

By staying with the Lady Vols for entire career, Summitt grew with her team, becoming a staple of the basketball scene. Like Nike’s Air Jordans that are constantly redesigned but unwavering in their importance, we encountered difference faces of Pat Summitt over the years, but she never lost her shine. Rather, her role in UT’s basketball history is so important that the women’s basketball team was the only team at the university to keep its nickname under a new Nike contract in 2015. Even though Summit had retired by then, Nike knew the tie between Summitt and the Lady Vols was an unbreakable one.

An Olympic Groundbreaker

Just after she became coach at UT, Pat Summitt was also named captain of the women’s Olympic basketball team. Leading them to the Silver in the 1976 games in Montreal, Summitt proved her skill as a player and also made history – 1976 was the first year that women’s basketball was an Olympic sport.

The only time Summitt played in the Olympics was in 1976, but she came back to coach the team in 1984 for the Los Angeles games. With her impressive skills as a seasoned coach, Summitt’s team took Gold that year. This made her the first American to both medal and coach a team to a medal in the Olympics.

A Record Breaker

In the days after her death, we heard over and over about how Summitt was the “winningest coach” in NCAA history for both men’s and women’s sports, but she was far more than that. Summitt’s SEC record was 458-69 over her career and led her team to eight national titles. She was also NCAA coach of the year seven times. That’s a lot of winning, but those aren’t even the most impressive numbers.

Summitt set records for total No. 1 NCAA seeds (21), number of NCAA wins (112), number of Final Four appearances (18), and number of national title games played (15). She’s also been inducted into six different halls of fame, including the most important, the Naismith Memorial.

A Title IX Hero

Summitt became a coach just two years after Title IX passed, transforming access to sports in education for women, and as a coach she inspired a generation of girls to play hard. And while her team peaked with the girls who came up playing under Title IX, with especially strong seasons between 1988 and 1998, Summitt pushed things even further. Under her leadership, 34 Lady Vols went on to play in the WNBA.

Upon her retirement in 2012, Summitt was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and it’s unsurprising. Her leadership as an athlete and coach, as a model for women both on and off the court, left a mark on the world.

We lost a great when we lost Pat Summitt, but her legacy won’t be forgotten any time soon.