Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Deaths of her father, mentor affect UT coach

Summitt is dedicating basketball season to her dad

KNOXVILLE -- When she spoke at her father's funeral last month, Pat Summitt took the opportunity to speak directly to Richard Head.

Tennessee's women's basketball coach made a pledge, one that said a mouthful about a dad's influence on a daughter's career.

"I'm going to dedicate the season to you,'' Summitt said of her farewell address to her father. "I'm going to make you proud. I'm going to be a better coach and teacher.''

The Lady Vols open the 2005-06 season at home Sunday against Stetson.

For Summitt to fulfill her vow, she'll do some listening, too. She will hear a voice from a different person and a different part of her life. In Summitt's case, influence has an echo in the memory of Sue Gunter, Summitt's coaching mentor.

"It goes fast,'' Summitt said. " I hear those words all the time.''

Gunter, the former LSU coach and women's basketball pioneer, uttered those words while talking about life at a gathering for her last year in Baton Rouge, La. Summitt said, "You could've heard a pin drop.''

Everyone there knew that Gunter's time was running out. She died in August after a long battle with emphysema.

Summitt is beginning her 32nd season at Tennessee. It will be her first without her father and her colleague. To be a better coach, she will need to hold the memory of both very close.

Summitt's father will resonate in her work ethic and her demanding ways.

"He's her drive,'' UT assistant coach Holly Warlick said. "He's the one who makes Pat accountable in her mind."

It says a lot about him that in the days immediately following his death, Tennessee senior guard Shanna Zolman expected Summitt to still be Summitt.

"It's going to be hard; I know it's going to be hard,'' Zolman said. "But I don't expect her to be any less intense.''

The coach pretty much delivered, spending the preseason discussing defense and the importance of being disciplined against overmatched exhibition opponents.

Her father's death encouraged Summitt to take full inventory of his impact. In preparing for the funeral and one of the most difficult speeches of her life, Summitt did what dad would've done. She went to work.

Summitt had lengthy discussions with family members and friends. She realized how much common ground she and her father shared.

"My dad, he was an incredible teacher,'' Summitt said, "and I didn't realize it because he wasn't a coach.

"Just because he didn't wear a whistle around his neck, I didn't realize what a coach he was.''

Gunter, on the other hand, was Summitt's coach. Gunter was an assistant for the 1976 Olympic team while Summitt was a co-captain. Four years later, Gunter was head coach and Summitt was the assistant.

After the 1997 Final Four, Summitt made a touching reference to Gunter in defending her husband, R.B., who was criticized in a New York Daily News story for his behavior and some things he reportedly was shouting during the national championship game against Old Dominion.

"R.B. is a fan,'' Summitt said. "He yells at officials. He yells at Sue Gunter. She helped raise me.''

Gunter was an SEC rival of Summitt's for 22 years at LSU. Her teams were among the few to inflict any noteworthy damage on Tennessee. The Tigers' only two SEC tourney titles (1991, 2003) were achieved by beating UT in the final.

Lady Vols Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly helped lead UT teams to three national championships, but they never won in Baton Rouge in two tries on Gunter's watch. Their last visit was with a team that was ranked No. 1. No matter, the Lady Tigers prevailed, 72-69.

The LSU team that Gunter began assembling and nurturing before retiring ended UT's seven-year run of SEC regular-season championships last season.

Yet Summitt always considered Gunter a friend.

After two years of harangues, Lady Vols junior Dominique Redding has a better sense for the sound of Summitt.

"My freshman year, you think she's picking on you,'' Redding said. "Once you get to know her as a person and a coach, you know she's trying to get you ready."

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