You must wonder what the University of Tennessee was thinking when it hired Pat Summitt (her name was Pat Head at the time) to coach its women’s basketball team in 1974.
Remarkable as all of Summitt’s records are, try this one. She was just graduating from UT-Martin and by her own admission had never run a practice or formulated a practice plan when UT asked her to take over when Margaret Hutson, after four seasons and a fine 60-18 record, asked for a leave. Hutson’s last season produced a 25-2 record.
Summitt had just been hired as an assistant. At 22, she was asked to take Hutson’s place.
Who knows if UT thought that highly of Summitt or if it was just blowing off women’s basketball and the 50 or so people who attended games? But the woman has never had a losing season, never missed an NCAA bracket, won more than 1,000 games and always is one of the top 2-3 teams in attendance.
Let’s not pretend women’s basketball is as deep as the men’s game, but any school with a team has a chance to make it successful or not, and Summitt certainly has done that at Tennessee.
The SEC loves to talk about how competitive it is in football, but few of its women’s basketball teams can keep up with Tennessee. Kentucky’s eight NCAA men’s championships were won by five different coaches. Tennessee’s eight women’s titles were all won by Summitt.
Now, she’s stepping down following a dementia diagnosis. Not many people go to sporting events to watch the coach, but if you saw any UT women’s basketball games over the past four decades, you noticed Summitt. She was, on any scale, exceptional.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2157 or mkatz@DaytonDailyNews.com.