By Alex Norman
We don’t expect our heroes to be fallible.
But unfortunately they are made of the same flesh and bone as the rest of us.
Last week marked the one year anniversary of the death of Pat Summitt and Tennessee is not the same without her. I’m not just talking about things that happen on the basketball court. Pat was the ultimate ambassador not only for the University of Tennessee, but for the state of Tennessee as well.
Born in Clarksville and schooled in Henrietta, Pat played her college basketball at UT-Martin. This was before Title IX. Her parents had to pay her way for school, even though she was an All-American that would eventually helped the USA win the silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics.
Even in her early 20s, Pat was representing the state of Tennessee on an international stage.
For nearly 40 years, Summitt served as the head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols. She won 1098 career games, 16 regular season SEC championships, 16 SEC tournament titles and 8 national championships. And every player that stayed with Summitt for four years earned their bachelor’s degree.
In that time Summitt became a celebrity. In the off season she would give speeches to Fortune 500 companies. A small town Tennessee farm girl recognized by captains of industry. But her ability to connect with Lady Vols fans is why they revere her to this day.
In August 2011, Summitt revealed that she was suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s. This was the cruelest blow during what truly has been the dark period of Tennessee athletics.
Starting with the firing of football coach Phillip Fulmer in November 2008, there was one Tennessee athletics misstep and mistake after another. The hiring of Lane Kiffin. The hiring of Derek Dooley. The Bruce Pearl BBQ. The hiring of Dave Hart. The decision to eliminate the Lady Vols nickname except for basketball. The Title IX lawsuits.
The first signs of this awful disease were present in Summitt years before her announcement, even if we couldn’t put two and two together at the time. One can only wonder if Summitt, who had a major influence on campus, would have been able to limit some of those errors in judgement by people in power if she wasn’t getting sick.
New Tennessee athletic director John Currie has made some popular moves in his short time back on campus. He has yet to directly address the Lady Vols name change situation.
Bringing that name… and that Lady Vols brand back to its rightful place would be perhaps the best way to honor Pat Summitt.
June 28th was her birthday.
Happy birthday, Pat.
We miss you.