Dear Coach Summitt,
We’ve never met, at least not properly. The closest we came to meeting was a few years back while walking opposite ways down “The Strip” near campus. Fans and former players alike frequently comment on “The Stare”–your penetrating look of intensity while roaming the sidelines on the hardwood. However, that day I was not greeted by “The Stare” but by a friendly smile, and an even friendlier “Hello.”
The following thoughts, “My God, it’s Pat Summit,” “Holy crap, she’s walking toward me,” “Did she just go out of her way to smile and say ‘Hello’ to me?!” all clustered in my brain and left me completely paralyzed for several seconds. I managed to eventually spit out a belated greeting, “Uh…hi” after you had already walked a good 10-15 feet past me.
While this is just one story, it is one of tens of thousands of stories about you floating around East Tennessee. Knoxville was my home for longer than any other place on Earth, 12 years, and in all of that time I’ve never heard one negative word spoken about you. A skeptic might think, “It’s easy to gain love and respect from your fans.” After all, these are the same folks who showed unwavering support for Lane Kiffin, right up until he left us in the middle of the night. So I will not quote Vol fans on the matter, instead, here are rival fans’ words:
From an Alabama Fan:
I hate Tennessee almost as much as I do Auburn, maybe more on any given day. With that being said, I love UT women’s basketball. It is a shame that one of the greatest basketball coaches in the history of the game(men or women’s) is diagnosed with such a cruel disease. Coach Summitt, from everything I have heard about her, is a perfect example of everything that is good with college sports. She represents her sport with an honor and dignity that makes all of the SEC proud to be associated with her. It pains me to say it but, GO VOLS, with nothing but humbleness and love from a lifelong Bama supporter.
From a Georgia Fan:
I’ve always respected Pat Summitt. One would be a fool not to. I’ve now gotten to the place where I actually like Pat Summitt, though, and when the too-soon day comes that she is no longer able to coach Tennessee basketball, it will be a terrible day for the entire basketball world.
May you stay at the head of the coaching world for a long time yet, Pat. God speed.
I could go on with similar quotes from other fan bases and former players, but it would largely be superfluous. Sure, there have been negative statements made about you in the past, but none from any respectable sources–these are the sentiments of the worst kind of Internet trolls. In the world of sports, nothing is easier than becoming a villain and nothing is more difficult than being widely respected. This is to say, it is easy to be hated for winning, but if you win while showing poise, grace, and passion, even your most heated rivals must respect you for winning “the right way.” For this precise reason, you have become one of the most respected figures in all of sports, and it has nothing to do with wins and losses.
However, I would be remiss if I did not so much as mention your amazing accomplishments as a head coach. After 37 years of coaching, you have won consistently, reaching 1000 wins well before having 200 loses. You have 16 Conference Championships, and 8 National Championships to your name. Of course, you know all this.
Perhaps it is in human nature to take for granted what we have. While our football team went through long periods of struggles, and brief moments of great achievement, you have been our rock. The Lady Vols have won and won and won, and our place as a top seed in the national tournament seemed preordained, not the final result of a year of hard practices and grueling competition.
I know you don’t want our sympathy, and you’ll be the last to throw a pity party. I know you’ll face this disease with the same fierce competitiveness that has kept you at the top of the coaching ranks all of these years. And sadly, I know that there will soon be a day when you are no longer roaming the hardwood with your name on it in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The one positive from this terrible diagnosis, if there is one, is that we can fully appreciate your accomplishments while you are still here. We can reflect on the positive impact you have had on East Tennessee and for the University. We can acknowledge the way you have elevated not just women’s basketball, but all women’s sports in America and internationally. You are one of the all-time greats, and we may never know how truly lucky we were that you called Tennessee home for all of these years.
Best of luck with the upcoming season, coach.
Zachary A. Marx,
University of Tennessee Alumni, Class of 2006