Pat Summitt talks teaching, retirement and the NBA
Imagine Kobe Bryant or LeBron James not getting back on defense as the man they are supposed to be covering skirts by the defense and scores an easy lay up.
Imagine the coaches chewing their star players out for the blunder they had just committed. "You've got to get back on D," the coach screams. "Get your heads in the game!"
Now, imagine the players' response to their coach, like a puppy who knows it's been bad, they say, "Yes, ma'am."
As ridiculous as that sounds, there is a female coach out there who has realistically considered what it would be like for them to coach a professional men's basketball team.
"I have thought about it," said legendary Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt. "Could it be done? I think it could, though it would be a big challenge for a female to coach men, to have the respect that the men coaches have, because it hasn't been done before."
Don't worry Volunteer fans. If any female coach could make the jump, it would be Summitt, the winningest coach in the history of NCAA basketball (men's or women's), but she says she isn't going to be coaching the Knicks next year, or at any time in the future.
"The only person that has really spoken to me about it [coaching in the NBA] is my attorney," Summit said. "He won't leave me alone about it, he won't let it die.
"Every time he talks to me he says, `You gotta coach in the NBA, you've just got to do it.' And I have no desire. I feel like you have the opportunity to have a greater influence at this level than at the pro level. Just being around the pro game, I feel like it is different. It is a job. Those guys, they are really impatient if you don't win and the last thing I want to be is fired."
Getting fired is something Summitt should never have to worry about. After 932 victories and counting, six national championships, 13 SEC championships, 12 SEC tournament titles, 92 NCAA tournament wins, 16 Final Fours, seven NCAA Coach of the Year awards and the prestigious Naismith Coach of the Century award, she's earned some job security.
Taking those stats into consideration, Summitt - in her 33rd season as Lady Vols coach - has essentially garnered every single award, honor and distinction the sport of women's basketball has to offer.
And at the risk of overcrowding the Knoxville-area hospitals with scores of heart attack patients, coach Summitt has won everything she can win in the sport and, if she so desired, could retire from the game, forever labeled the greatest teacher in the sport's history.
At the age of 54, Summitt is not considered old for her profession by any stretch, and there are no physical ailments - knock on wood - that should stop her from coaching any time soon. But the thought of retiring has crossed the Tennessee-Martin alum's mind.
And as quickly as it entered her mind, it exited just as fast.
"It's not like I painted myself in the corner and couldn't do something else," Summitt said. "I just never had the desire to do anything else. I am 54 years old and as long as my health is good, I can see myself coaching another 10 years, but I don't have a time table. I definitely intend to coach at Tennessee for at least six more years."
Exhale Tennesseans, exhale.
"I love being around college campuses and around the student-athletes," Summitt said, thinking fondly of her experiences at UT. "I love the football games and the basketball games and just the atmosphere. I love the teaching part of it. I like the fan support we have at Tennessee, we've led the nation in attendance for a number of years and I just have a great thing going here."
Summitt still craves the action and enjoys every second on the sidelines willing and teaching her Vols to victory. If her passion, love and enjoyment for the game she's been around her entire life ever dissipated, she'd be the first to suggest she step down.
"When it is no longer something that I look forward to or fun, and it's not fun all the time, don't get me wrong," Summitt said, "but if it's not something that I am passionate about - like I love practice, I absolutely love practice with the student-athletes, games are fun, but practice is when you really get to teach and have more of an influence in helping them develop their skills and learn the game - and when that is not fun, than I will not do it anymore.
"I'll know that if I am not having fun, I'm not giving them my all, then I am cheating the student-athletes and I would never want to do that."
In the hip-hop culture that basketball has become, Summitt is a throwback to the days when coaches were mentors, teachers or parental figures, not friends. For all the records and honors she's received, none makes her prouder than being able to say Tennessee has graduated 100 percent of its women's basketball players for as long as Summitt has been coach.
During her early career, Summitt said she was more of a dictator than she is now.
"I think that I have adjusted, and I needed to adjust, to working with young people today," she admitted. "I think when I started out, it was more about my way and that was the only way, and I think as you work with young people you have to get to know what motivates them and find out how you can bring out the best in each and every student-athlete that you work with."
There is one rule that, no matter how long she coaches or how much she adjusts to today's student-athlete, she'd never stand for being broken. There is a reason why all her players graduate...they must attend their classes.
"For me, the way I grew up with my family and the emphasis they placed on academics and going to class, it is just a given," Summitt explained. "I came in thinking that everyone wanted to succeed in the classroom as well as on the court. But along the way I found out that certain student-athletes were not as highly motivated and challenged."
Way back when the coach went by the name of "Trish" and was a student and standout basketball and volleyball player at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Summitt had a no missing class rule for herself that she said her parents instilled in her.
"Because I wasn't ever allowed to miss a day of school, I never missed a day of school in 12 years," she said. "I remember I overslept when I was in college for a class. When I woke up, class had started 10 minutes earlier and I rushed and got dressed. I cried all the way over to my classroom because I guess I thought my parents would find out. I had it ingrained in me and it made a difference for me. I certainly wasn't the smartest student but I was committed to being in class and I knew that would give me an edge and an opportunity to get my college degree."
Back in 1974, as the Dean of Tennesee-Martin was handing a young confident kid her diploma and shaking her hand, there would be no way to tell of the greatness that was to come.
Her career has been one honor, one recognition, one triumph after another. Even in defeat, she has been gracious. For the Lady Vols, she is the epitome of class, and no matter when she does finally decide she's had enough, in Knoxville and across the country, Pat Summitt has impacted the women's game like no one ever has before. Or ever will again.