Wednesday, March 23, 2005

UT should now court Summitt for the men's job

KNOXVILLE — The Summitt.

If the shoe fits, wear it. If the court fits, name it.

But why stop there? Why not give Pat Summitt equal billing on the whole darn building? What's wrong with Thompson-Boling-Summitt Arena? Or maybe Summitt-Thompson-Boling Arena?

She deserves it. Of all the things that have transpired in this facility, Summitt has overseen most of the good moments. While men's basketball languished, the Lady Vols have been an example of what is good in college athletics.

Summitt has won championships, graduated players and elevated the sport. She has done all of the above with dignity and class. What more do you want of a coach?

Certainly, we can debate whether victory No. 880 is a record or a milestone. I lean toward milestone.

While women and men use the same court, these are really two different sports. No one should question the stature of Dean Smith or the accomplishment of 879 career victories. Nor should anyone question the stature of Pat Summitt or the accomplishment of her 880 career victories.

Each stands on its own merit.

Besides, we're talking about numbers here. And there is so much more to both Smith and Summitt than mere numbers. Smith participated in a prolonged growth spurt in the men's game. Summitt continues to steer women's basketball into greater prominence on the national sports scene.

Now that Summitt has passed Smith's victory total, maybe it's time for her to seek a new challenge. And if she really wants one, all she has to do is walk down the hallway.

There, on the same floor of the arena, is the men's basketball coach's office at the University of Tennessee. They have a vacancy. Again.

For all the speculation about the identity of the next coach of Vol Ball (Bruce Pearl is the flavor of the day, but Dana Altman continues to gain traction), one coach can have the job just by saying she wants it.

And UT wouldn't even have to pay moving expenses.

She says she doesn't want it. But have they really asked her? Has Mike Hamilton scheduled an interview? Are his people talking to her people?

Considering everything Summitt has accomplished with the Lady Vols and everything that has not been accomplished with the Men Vols, why not give it one more shot? Put a proposal in front of her, pile up the cash and make your pitch. If she says no, fine, at least you tried.

There was a time — about two or three coaches ago — that Summitt actually would have considered this gender-bender move. When Kevin O'Neill was hired to clean up Wade Houston's mess in the spring of '94, Summitt was intrigued by the possibility. But the call never came.

Three years later, she was coming off a national championship and about to embark on an undefeated season that forever changed the face of women's basketball. It just wasn't the right time.

Now she's 52, or, as she said recently, ''too old to think about doing that now.''

It's hard to believe that she's been winning games and influencing people for 31 seasons. Think about it. She's been around longer than Title IX.

At Tennessee, Summitt has outlasted six men's basketball coaches, five university presidents, two football coaches, two athletics directors, two home courts and the Tap Room on the Strip near the UT campus. Only the Tap Room came close to her in terms of longevity. But those doors have been closed.

Meanwhile, Pat Summitt continues to open new doors. It's just a shame that one of them is not at the office of the UT men's basketball coach.

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