Saturday, April 02, 2005

Saying Summitt should coach men is insult

INDIANAPOLIS - Whenever Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt reaches a coaching milestone, the dumb idea starts to surface that maybe Summitt should try coaching men.

It's understandable. The number of records she breaks is absurd. She is in Indianapolis this weekend for her 16th Final Four, which is more than that of legendary coach John Wooden. She has won more games than any college basketball coach. And certainly handing over the Tennessee men's team to Summitt instead of former Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl would have made the program more relevant than it has been in years.

But why is it when a woman becomes ultra-successful in a sport, the first thing we want to do is say how much better she would be if she proved herself among men?

Saying Summitt should coach guys is an insult to everything she's done for both Tennessee and the women's game. The message seems to be Summitt's 882 victories, six NCAA titles, her 83 percent winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament and 24 straight NCAA bids are good, but she would be more respected if she made it coaching guys.

"It's the reality of the society we live in," Summitt said. "I don't think I have anything to prove as a coach. A lot of people think, well if a female coach is in the men's game, then you've arrived."

Tennessee has been so good for so long under Summitt it's hard to remember when she actually did "arrive." A Lady Vol has never left the program without participating in a Final Four. Summitt has won 89 of 106 NCAA Tournament games.

When Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was offered the Los Angeles Lakers job last summer, nobody said his success at Duke would be validated if he turned the Lakers around. (How smart does he look now because he didn't take that job?) And you could argue that what Summitt did for Tennessee was more than what Krzyzewski did for Duke.

This isn't to say Summitt couldn't cut it with male players or against male coaches. If there is any woman suited to coach men at the college level, it's her. Her recruiting, player development and competitiveness are extraordinary. Along with a penetrating gaze, she's got enough star power to make her gender a non-issue.

But there is nothing Summitt could add to the men's game_at least not on the level that she's contributed to women's basketball. Little boys wouldn't look up to Summitt like little girls do. If she coached a men's team, she'd be a novelty for a moment and then just another coach. For women's players and coaches, Summitt is the standard and the biggest role model in her sport.

"I do feel like I can have much more influence here on the lives of these young women and that's what I want to do," Summitt said.

For Summitt, the jump just isn't worth it. It's not like she would take over a men's team on the same level as the Tennessee women. She would have to start from scratch. And why, if you've won more than 800 games, would you ever want to start from scratch?

If Summitt failed in the men's game, her impeccable record would be diminished slowly. Women's coaches everywhere would never hear the end of it because Summitt's failure would become the rule, not the exception.

Summitt is just better off without the men. Not many women can say that.

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