Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Summitt still driven to reach the top at history's brink

For Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, the victory total that concerns her is six, the number needed for an NCAA title. But there's a bigger number for her, too.

If Tennessee wins two tournament games, Summitt becomes the Division I basketball coach with the most wins — in the men's or women's game. Summitt has 878, one less than retired North Carolina men's coach Dean Smith.

"The timing of this is not the greatest," says Summitt, whose team opens against Western Carolina on Sunday as a No. 1 seed for the 17th time in 24 years. "The focus right now is on this team. I am just thinking about if (the record) happens, it means we are going to the Sweet 16."

Summitt started at Tennessee in the 1974-75 season, when she was also taking grad courses and teaching gym classes. "I've said a number of times, I can't imagine anyone coming out of college as an undergrad and walking into a job that would allow them to be a head coach at 22."

Summitt, 52, talked to USA TODAY's Dick Patrick recently about women's college basketball and her impact as she approaches Smith's mark:

USA TODAY: After 31 seasons, six national titles, fame and great salaries, what keeps you motivated? Your enthusiasm doesn't seem diminished.

A: "I love what I do and look forward to going to work. I just love it. One thing that motivates me is the competition. It's greater than it's ever been. So is the desire to help this program stay at the top. It's harder now to stay at the top. That challenge inspires me as a coach. Some people might say, 'Ooh, I'm getting out while I'm in good shape.' I'm like, 'I'm going to see what we can do here in the next few years.' "

Q: What's the best part of coaching for you?

A: "Being with the student-athletes and teaching every day. I love practice as much or more than games because teaching is my real passion. It gives me a great opportunity to be with people I enjoy — my staff and players — and spend that time helping them get better and prepare. The challenge of preparing for the next game is what I love."

Q: You've been a tireless promoter of the game. What's most gratifying for you to see in the development of women's basketball?

A: "There's a number of things that excite me in the last five years. Parity excites me, and I know that probably sounds crazy because it makes life more difficult for all of us. But it's good for the game. It excites me to see the amount of television exposure the game has received. I'm amazed at how many games are on.

"It also excites me to see big crowds. When I turn on a game and see a sold-out arena or 10,000 people at a game, that speaks volumes."

Q: What's an important next step in the progression of the game?

A: "I'd go back to marketing. There's still a number of institutions that are behind in that area. Some people say when you win, they come. They do. But I know a lot of programs that have marketed and not won at the highest level but have had success.

"You've got to spend money to make money. People are going to look at how they want to spend their money in terms of entertainment. I tell our kids people have a choice of what they want to do about entertainment. I say, to be frank, we're in the entertainment business when we play. People don't want to come and watch ugly basketball."

Q: You mentioned parity. There seems to be more good players than ever. Is part of that attributable to the WNBA?

A: "Part of it, yes. Young players now seem to have a greater incentive for working on their skills, working on their game, whether it's to earn a college scholarship or be a professional player. I see the interest level growing because of, in particular, the exposure of the game and players that have name recognition.

"We didn't have that for years. Even when we had Cheryl Miller, she didn't have as much exposure as we have now with Seimone Augustus. It's a different world in terms of exposure."

Q: You've been involved with the WNBA's Washington Mystics as a consultant. Could you see yourself as a pro coach?

A: "I thought about it, to be honest with you. I did. I thought someday I might want to, and I would never say never. And I strongly considered all the options.

"I just love the college campus and college athletics. That's a place where you can teach and influence and impact lives.

"I wouldn't do real well if a player strolls into practice 15 minutes late. What am I going to do, fine 'em? No. I'm going to put them on the line (to run). And I'm not sure that would work.

"I see so many pro athletes I think are spoiled individuals. And they're adults. I think that with fame and money, sometimes, somehow, people think that empowers them to be jerks.

"No. I think I'd really struggle with my upbringing and my philosophy as a basketball coach in the pros. They may all walk out and boycott. I'm not saying I'd never go there. I will admit I thought long and hard about it."

Q: Of all your coaching accomplishments, the most remarkable might be your 23-for-23 record in making the Sweet 16. Is that pressure or inspiration or both?

A: "You know, I didn't even realize that stat. I'm not a records person. (Sports information director) Debby Jennings said the other day, 'Can you believe we've been to seven of the last 10 Final Fours?' I wasn't aware of that, either.

"I'm not saying we take winning for granted. I've always lived in the moment. ... It's been a wonderful and successful program to be a part of, but right now my focus is on this team. When you said that, I thought, 'Wow.'

"As we all know, it goes back to having players. (Hall of Fame coach) Billie Moore, who has been a mentor of mine for years, she always reminds me come March, when we're trying to add new wrinkles, 'Let me ask you, Pat, would you rather have two more great plays or two more great players?' I say, "I got you, coach.' "

Q: With all your wins, you have never taken the easy route. Your victory total hasn't been padded. It seems like your schedule is always the toughest in the country (this year, the Vols are No. 1 nationally in strength of schedule). What's the method to your scheduling madness?

A: "I grew up with three older brothers. ... They challenged me all the time. In my development as a player and competitor, they made me who I am as far as my toughness and my drive. They never let me beat them.

"My father played my nephew in checkers and Derek would cry because Dad was always beating him. I said, 'Dad, why don't you let him win?' He goes, 'I'm never going to let him win. He's going to have to learn how to beat me.'

"That's how I grew up. We had to learn how to be successful. I played for good coaches early, and they challenged me. When I was trying to make the Olympic team while I was coaching, I went over to the rec center every day and played against guys. I knew if I was going to make that team, I'd have to work against guys.

"I don't make it easy for my teams. I challenge them with tough schedules."

Q: You're young, healthy and motivated enough to put the win total into the stratosphere. How much longer will you coach? Will you know when it's time to get out?

A: "I think I'll know. The hardest part of what I do is the travel. The coaching part I love as much as ever. I don't enjoy all the travel and the time away from home. With Tyler (her 14-year-old son) playing ball, that part is hard for me.

"I'm going to do this as long as I love it as much as I love it. I'll know when. I knew when it was time to quit playing. I grew up riding horses and competing in shows. One Saturday evening I said, 'I'm tired of this. I don't want to do it anymore.' And I quit, cold turkey.

"I think I'll know. I hope I'll know. I told (assistant) Holly (Warlick), 'If y'all roll me into Thompson-Boling (Arena) in a wheelchair, I'll never forgive you. When that day happens, you just need to roll me right into my living room.' "

What they're saying

Former North Carolina men's coach Dean Smith: "I am delighted Coach Summitt has had continued success based on her tremendous coaching skill and dedication. In my estimation, she would have had great success coaching in the men's game had she chosen that route."

Wichita coach Jane Albright, a former assistant: "I knew Pat was a superstar and the best there was before she got famous. I've never seen anyone so driven. You're with her and she's a normal person. When her foot steps on the basketball court, she transforms into the most competitive person I've ever known."

North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, a former assistant: "She's fun-loving, a great cook and puts her family first. She's a great person and a great friend. She's done so much for the game. I wouldn't be where I am and have had the experiences I've had if it weren't for Pat Summitt."

Georgia coach Andy Landers: "You knew a long time ago that Pat or (Texas coach) Jody (Conradt) were going to forge ahead and set a milestone that will be difficult for people to conceive" in the future.

LSU coach Pokey Chatman: "She is women's basketball as we know it. It's amazing the period of time she's been able to excel at such a high level. They're always going to be the program you're chasing."

The Summitt file

Born: June 14, 1952
Family: Married R.B. Summitt in 1980. Has one son, Ross Tyler Summitt, 14.
Education: B.S. in physical education from Tennessee-Martin, M.S. in physical education from Tennessee.
Playing experience: Led UT-Martin to a 64-29 record over four years. Co-captain of 1976 Olympic team that won silver medal. Member 1975 World Championship team, '75 Pan American Games team that won gold and '73 U.S. World University Games team that won silver.
Coaching career: Thirty-one seasons, all at Tennessee. In 1974-75, while rehabilitating a knee injury, she began her first season as coach. She had no previous experience. Led U.S. women's team to its first Olympic gold medal, in 1984.
First win: Jan. 10, 1975 — 69-32 vs. Middle Tennessee State at Alumni Gym in Knoxville. Attendance — 53.
Overall record: 878-171, including 14 30-plus win seasons.
NCAA Tournament record: 85-17 (.833)
Record vs. ranked teams: 352-141, (.713)
NCAA titles: 6 (1987, '89, '91, '96, '97, '98)
Final Fours: 15 appearances, 17-9.
SEC titles: 13 regular season (1980, '85, '90, '93-95, '98-2004); 11 tournament (1980, '85, '88-89, '92, '94, '96, '98-2000, '05).
Honors: In 2000, became the fourth women's coach to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.; named SEC coach of the year six times, the last in 2004; NCAA coach of the year seven times, most recently in '04; named Naismith Coach of the Century in 2000.

Summitt by the numbers

0 — Games coached prior to Tennessee
1 — Undefeated season
5 — NCAA runner-up
6 — SEC coach of the year
6 — NCAA championships
7 — NCAA coach of the year awards
7 — Consecutive SEC regular-season championships
11 — Most single-season losses
11 — SEC tournament titles
13 — SEC regular-season titles
14 — 30-plus win seasons
15 — NCAA Final Four appearances
17 — Regular seasons with 1 or less conference losses
17 — No. 1 seeds in NCAA Tournament
18 — Seasons with five or fewer losses
20 — Assistants who became college or professional head coaches
21 — Final top 5 rankings in AP poll
28 — Consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins
28.5 — Average of wins per season
30 — Regular-season conference losses, all-time
31 — Seasons in Knoxville
39 — Most single-season wins
46 — Assistants who became college or pro basketball coaches
47 — Longest winning streak
53 — Fans in attendance for first victory as coach
69 — Consecutive home wins
74 — Largest margin of victory in NCAA Tournament (1994, vs. N.C. A&T)
83.3 — Win percentage in NCAA Tournament games
85 — Victories in NCAA Tournament
95 — Weeks ranked No. 1 in AP poll
100 — Percentage of NCAA Tournaments made
345 — Weeks ranked in AP poll top 5
352 — Victories vs. ranked teams
878 — Career victories
24,611 — Largest home crowd (Jan. 5 2002 vs. UConn)

Pat Summitt’s year-by-record at Tennessee

Season Overall Conf. Postseason
1974-75 16-8 None State
1975-76 16-11 None State finals
1976-77 28-5 None AIAW Final Four
1977-78 27-4 None AIAW Regionals
1978-79 30-9 None AIAW Final Four
1979-80 33-5 0-0(3) AIAW Finals
1980-81 25-6 0-0 AIAW Finals
1981-82 22-10 0-0 Final Four
1982-83 25-8 7-1(1) Round of 8
1983-84 23-10 7-1(1) NCAA runner-up
1984-85 22-10 4-4(2) Round of 16
1985-86 24-10 5-4 Final Four
1986-87 28-6 6-3 NCAA champions
1987-88 31-3 8-1(2) Final Four
1988-89 35-2 8-1(2) NCAA champions
1989-90 27-6 8-1(1) Round of 8
1990-91 30-5 6-3 NCAA champions
1991-92 28-3 10-1(2) Round of 16
1992-93 29-3 11-0(1) Round of 8
1993-94 31-2 11-0(1,2) Round of 16
1994-95 34-3 11-0(1) NCAA runner-up
1995-96 32-4 9-2(2) NCAA champions
1996-97 29-10 8-4 NCAA champions
1997-98 39-0 14-0(1,2) NCAA champions
1998-99 31-3 13-1(1,2) Round of 8
1999-00 33-4 13-1(1,2) Final Four
2000-01 31-3 14-0(1) Round of 16
2001-02 29-5 13-1(1) Final Four
2002-03 33-5 14-0(1) NCAA runner-up
2003-04 31-4 14-01(1) NCAA runner-up
2004-05 26-4 13-1(2) ???
Totals 878-171 (.837) 241-30
(1) Won Southeastern Conference regular season championship
(2) Won SEC tournament
(3) Did not play SEC regular season schedule but won league tournament

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