Home / Featured / The legend passes: Pat Summitt dies at age of 64

The legend passes: Pat Summitt dies at age of 64

Legendary University of Tennessee Lady Vols Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt passed away this morning after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 64.

During her legendary coaching career, Pat Summitt’s Lady Vol teams won 32 combined SEC regular season and tournament championships, made it to 18 Final Fours and claimed eight national championships. When she retired at the end of the 2011-2012 season, after her diagnosis of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type, she did so with a career won-loss record of 1098 wins and 208 losses, making her the winningnest Division 1 college basketball coach—men’s or women’s—of all time. Her steely glare and intense competitive spirit made her a legend, who helped grow the sport of women’s basketball into what it is today.

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Off the court, she will be remembered for furthering the cause of women, not just in sports but all walks of life, who gave of her time to the community that she called home and loved. She devoted time to causes like the United Way and domestic violence prevention and following her diagnosis in 2011, established the Pat Summitt Foundation, which raises money for awareness and research into Alzheimer’s Disease.

Coach Summitt also received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award after her battle with the disease became public. She was also named the Associated Press Coach of the Century in 2000.

For more information, reaction to her passing and more on how you can get involved in the coach’s fight against Alzheimer’s Disease, please visit www.patsummitt.org.

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While we tend to focus on the impact she had nationally on the sport of women’s basketball, locally, she also had a tremendous impact, as Clinton High School girls’ basketball coach Alicia Phillips told me this morning.

Our high school kids now, she’s been retired since these kids have been in high school, so they might not know the impact as much as what we did back in the day. Just her intensity, her passion…her dedication to the game has been an absolutely tremendous thing.”

Coach Phillips also said that she gave all women a role model to look up to, not just those involved in sports. Phillips, who played softball at UT after graduating from Clinton High School, recounted her experience meeting the legendary coach on her first official visit to the campus, saying that “when Coach Summitt started speaking, you’re automatically paying attention and it made you want to be a better listener.”

Pat Summitt’s family will hold a private funeral service and burial in middle Tennessee in the near future and Tyler Summitt, in this morning’s statement, indicated that a public celebration of her life will be held at what he described as one of her favorite places, Thompson-Boling Arena.

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Following are statements from Tyler Summitt, the Pat Summitt Foundation, Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, UT football coach Butch Jones, former UT football coach Phillip Fulmer and Peyton Manning.

Pat Summitt’s son Tyler released a statement early Tuesday morning.

It is with tremendous sadness that I announce the passing of my mother, Patricia Sue Head Summitt.

She died peacefully this morning at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.

Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced. Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.

For 64 years, my mother first built her life upon a strong relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Her foundation was also built upon love of her family and of her players, and love of the fundamentals of hard work which reflected her philosophy that ‘you win in life with people’.

She was the fourth of five children – Tommy, Charles, Kenneth and Linda – born to Richard and Hazel Head on June 14, 1952, in Clarksville, Tenn.  Her tireless work ethic and her love of the game of basketball were created during the time she spent growing up on the family farm.

She’ll be remembered as the all-time winningest D-1 basketball coach in NCAA history, but she was more than a coach to so many – she was a hero and a mentor, especially to me, her family, her friends, her Tennessee Lady Volunteer staff and the 161 Lady Vol student-athletes she coached during her 38-year tenure.

We will all miss her immensely.

A private service and burial will be held for my mother in Middle Tennessee.  I ask that you respect the privacy of that time.

We are in the process of finalizing the details of a public celebration of her life which will take place in one of her favorite places, Thompson-Boling Arena. Once those details are finalized, we will share them with you.

Thank you.”

Statement for Joan Cronan on Pat Summitt’s death

“Words are not adequate for my feelings at this time. Pat Summitt was the most courageous person I’ve ever known in fighting this disease. She was determined to make a difference in bringing attention to the disease and she has done that. She fought the good fight and all of us who loved her will continue that fight on her behalf through the Pat Summitt Foundation.
As you know I worked with Pat for over 30 years. People would refer to me as her boss and I always remarked, Pat Summitt has no boss. She was the ultimate leader who led by example with strength, character and integrity but also with care. She loved her family and players with a fierceness equalled only by that renowned stare of hers.
The legacy she leaves is immense. Her players, who all have college degrees, have been enriched by her teaching. They are coaches, professors, television personalities, businesswomen, all now making a difference in their world because of Pat Summitt.
There will never be another Pat Summitt. She belongs to the ages now and we are sad but so fortunate to have called her a colleague and friend.”

Statement from The Pat Summitt Foundation

The leadership of The Pat Summitt Foundation released the following statement on the passing of their founder, Pat Head Summitt, University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball Head Coach Emeritus. 
Coach Summitt served as The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Women’s Basketball Head Coach for 38 seasons and became the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history for men’s and women’s teams with 1098 wins, eight national championships and 32 Southeastern Conference tournament and regular season championships.
In August 2011, at the age of 59, she bravely announced her diagnosis of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She founded The Pat Summitt Foundation, a fund of East Tennessee Foundation, in November 2011, with the mission of making a difference in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease by advancing research for a cure and providing education and caregiving services for patients and their families. 
James A. Haslam II, Advisory Board Chairman of The Pat Summitt Foundation stated, “On behalf of the Board, I want to express our deep sorrow to Pat’s family on her passing. Alzheimer’s is such a horrific disease and as you know currently has no cure. Since Pat was diagnosed in 2011 she dedicated her life to this Foundation in the hope of helping find a cure. We will continue that work on her behalf and in fact will open The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic at The University of Tennessee Medical Center by the end of this year.”
On a personal note, there are not many icons that you come in contact with in your lifetime and we all were fortunate to know one, Pat Summitt. Her work ethic, her dedication to the young women she coached, and her integrity in everything she did will never be equalled. She set the standard for excellence in academics, athletics and life. She was a role model and an inspiration and we are all enriched for having known her.”
In January 2015, The Pat Summitt Foundation announced a partnership with The University of Tennessee Medical Center to launch the establishment of The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic on their Knoxville, Tennessee campus which will more than double available care and services to patients and caregivers and advance research through clinical trials. The Foundation has committed funding to this effort with a pledge of $2.5 million over the next five years. 
Pat Summitt, when she spoke of her wish for her legacy said, “I thought I would be remembered for winning basketball games, but I hope I’m remembered for making a difference in this disease.” The Pat Summitt Foundation is committed to making Pat’s mission a reality with the support of her family, friends, associates, and fans who, as donors and partners are helping create The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic at The University of Tennessee Medical Center.

Tennessee football coach Butch Jones:

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Pat Summitt. I had the privilege of spending time with Pat during my first year at Tennessee, and those are conversations I will cherish forever. When you think of all the great coaches in all sports, Pat Summitt is at the top of that list.

As a coach, I stand in awe of Pat and what she accomplished on and off the court. She is someone I admired when I decided I wanted to get into coaching. You study all the great coaches, the traits that made them successful, and you try to incorporate those into your own program and teams. She demanded excellence and her teams played to her personality.

It was about more than basketball for her, it was about life. She wanted every player that left the program to be prepared for the next stage of their life. Every player received a degree, and that was as important to her as any win on the court. She wouldn’t settle for anything but the best effort on the court and in the classroom.”

Former Volunteer football coach Phillip Fulmer:

“Pat Summitt was many things to many people. Pat was a great person, loving mother, passionate coach, and loyal friend. We shared a lot of years working together and spreading the word about Tennessee Athletics. We had wonderful personal times talking about life, our respective teams, or helping each other recruit. Her legacy as a basketball coach is iconic, but her greatest legacy may well be through The Pat Summitt Foundation and her role in leading the battle against Alzheimer’s!”

Former UT and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning:

I’ve always been honored to call Pat Summitt my friend. She was always very supportive of my career and I enjoyed seeing her back at a Tennessee football game or when she would come to Indianapolis to see Tamika Catchings play. We would always get together and I made it a point when I came to Knoxville to visit with her.

She was one of the people I consulted with following my junior year when I was deciding whether to turn pro early or stay in college. She gave me some very valuable advice during that time. My teammates and I went to a lot of Lady Vols games when we were in school, and I really enjoyed watching her teams play.

I just always appreciated Pat’s friendship and support. I was always impressed with how all of her former players spoke about her. You speak to people like Tamika Catchings or Chamique Holdsclaw, and they just talk about the role that Pat played in all their lives on and off the court. You can just tell the impact that she had on those players.

It would have been a great experience to play for her. She could have coached any team, any sport, men’s or women’s. It wouldn’t have mattered because Pat could flat out coach. I will miss her dearly, and I am honored to call her my friend. My thoughts and prayers are with Tyler and their entire family.”

University of Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart:

We are deeply saddened by today’s news of Pat Summitt’s passing. We send our deepest condolences to her son, Tyler, and to her family and friends. Pat Summitt is synonymous with Tennessee, but she truly is a global icon who transcended sports and spent her entire life making a difference in other peoples’ lives. She was a genuine, humble leader who focused on helping people achieve more than they thought they were capable of accomplishing. Pat was so much more than a Hall of Fame coach; she was a mother, mentor, leader, friend, humanitarian and inspiration to so many. Her legacy will live on through the countless people she touched throughout her career.”

Governor Bill Haslam:

“All of us in the Tennessee Board of Regents system are deeply saddened by the loss of one of Tennessee’s greatest icons. While Pat Summit was known for her incredible accomplishments as the coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee — winning more games than any Division I coach male or female — it was her dedication to helping her players succeed in the classroom and graduate that ensures her legacy extends far beyond the scoreboard. We extend our condolences to her family and the University of Tennessee, and we share in the grief of a state that lost a legend last night.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee:

It’s hard for people outside Tennessee to understand just how much Pat Summitt became a part of the lives of so many citizens in our state. She took time for community events. She taught us the game of women’s college basketball. And she was so up front and personal about it, with her famous stare and her discussion of her extraordinary athletes, what their strengths were and what they had to work on. We all felt we not only knew her—we knew the athletes as well.

Pat did far more than win eight national championships: she changed the lives of the young women she coached, she showed us the measure of a real champion and her fight against Alzheimer’s set an example for us all.”

U.S. Senator Bob Corker:

I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Pat Summitt. Basketball has lost a legend, and Tennessee has lost one of its most beloved daughters. 

There is perhaps no one who left a more indelible mark on his or her profession than Coach Summitt. Through her 38 years as head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, she amassed a historic record of achievement and blazed a trail for women across our country. The impact she had on her players, the University of Tennessee, the Knoxville community, and the game of basketball will be felt for years to come. I join all Tennesseans today in celebrating her life and extend my thoughts and prayers to her son, Tyler, the Lady Vol family, and all those who were touched by her remarkable life.”

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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