7 Lessons from a Legend

pat summitt tennessee legend coach history women's basketball john wooden
pat summitt tennessee legend coach history women's basketball john wooden

This year marks the four-year anniversary of Pat Summit’s passing, and we take a moment to acknowledge her incredible body of work, and to explain why she is a true legend.

Pat Summitt passed away on June 26, 2016, at the age of 64 from Alzheimer’s Disease. Discover how Coach Summitt’s coaching journey can make you a better coach and person!

The word “Legend” gets thrown around a lot these days, so we’ve come to overlook its real meaning. Many people are legends in their own minds, or in the eyes of their parents, or within their school’s history, or even within a short span of time (only to fade into obscurity months later).

But anyone who is truly a legend has risen to the top of their profession. They are the very best at what they do to the point that everyone else acknowledges their greatness. This is definitely true of Pat Summitt. Coach Summitt retired with 1098 wins (all at the University of Tennessee), and is the second winningest basketball coach in college basketball history – male or female (second only to Mike Krzyewski)!

In looking back at Coach Summitt’s journey through her legendary coaching career, these 7 lessons stand out to me:

  1. Not for the Money – While Pat Summitt became a million dollar women’s basketball coach, she didn’t start out that way. In fact, far from it. In 1974, Summit’s first year as a head coach, she was paid $8,900! It was only after winning her 1,000th game did she sign a contract for $1.4 million. Her final contract extension paid her over $1.5 million per year.
  2. Staying Power – Under Coach Summitt, Tennessee won an incredible 8 NCAA Championships (second only to the great John Wooden at the time), went to an unprecedented 38 consecutive NCAA/AIAW tournaments, won 112 NCAA playoff games and 32 SEC Championships. While winning those 8 National Championships, she finished 2nd 7 times before winning her one. 7 times! Winners fight harder and longer and that’s usually why they win. Oh, and her 1,098 wins – that comes out to over 28 wins a year for every one of her 38 years as a head coach. Just to give you an idea of how hard that is, a team that plays in the national championship only plays 39-40 games. So winning at least 28 games a year for 38 years is unbelievable!
  3. Giving Back – Sure, Pat Summitt became a millionaire coaching women’s basketball, but of significant note is the amount of money she gave back to the places that gave her a chance to become a legend. Coach Summitt donated $600,000 to the University of Tennessee to be split evenly between the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Women’s Basketball Program where she coached college basketball, and the University of Tennessee Martin Women’s Basketball Program where she played college basketball. This also included a $100,000 endowed scholarship for a Lady Vols basketball graduate assistant in honor of her parents in the hopes that “this gift will afford other young women the same opportunities that I had as a graduate assistant.” It wasn’t just about Pat.
  4. Loyalty – Pat Summitt started her career at the University of Tennessee and 38 years later she retired from the University of Tennessee. It’s rare these days to find such loyalty when coaches change jobs for the money, or where administrators are quick to make a change. It’s impossible to think of the University of Tennessee without also thinking of Pat Summitt. She demanded loyalty from her players, but she wasn’t above showing it herself.
  5. Make Wherever You Are the Big Time – There were 35 people in the stands for her first win – 35!! Compare that to 12,000+ fans that UT women’s basketball averaged in 2012 for their home games – making UT the leader in women’s basketball attendance for the 8th straight year in a row and 14 out of the last 15 years. Oh, and she was never above doing anything that needed to be done. In the early years, she swept the basketball court, wired the scoreboard and helped sell tickets to try and get the program off the ground.
  6. Not Just About Basketball – While winning 8 national champions and over 1,000 basketball games, Pat Summitt graduated 100% of her players! Proving that athletic and academic excellence do not have to be mutually exclusive. Summitt also required her players to sit in the front row of their classes so their professors would know who they were.
  7. It’s Not About Her – Faced with the knowledge that her future would not stay as sharply focused as her past, Summitt made the decision to step aside as the Head Basketball Coach at UT. Sure, the University would have allowed her to stay on as long as she could, but always thinking of others, Coach Summitt realized that stepping aside was the best thing she could do for the program she loved. Knowing when to leave is harder than knowing how to win.

Coach Summitt had what she called the Definitive Dozen, which were 12 rules that defined her program and she felt should define every basketball program. So here they are:

  1. Respect Yourself & Others
  2. Take Full Responsibility
  3. Develop & Demonstrate Loyalty
  4. Learn to Be a Great Communicator
  5. Discipline Yourself So No One Else Has To
  6. Make Hard Work Your Passion
  7. Don’t Just Work Hard, Work Smart
  8. Put the Team Before Yourself
  9. Make Winning an Attitude
  10. Be a Competitor
  11. Change is a Must
  12. Handle Success Like You Handle Failure

To say the game of women’s basketball will never be the same without her is to miss the whole point. The game of women’s basketball is different and forever will be because of Coach Pat Summitt. She never expected anything to be given to her so she went out and worked for it. She didn’t coach to get rich but she ended up enriching those around her. She made others better for having played for and against her and she’s given all of us the rare opportunity in life to have witnessed a legend – a true legend.

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