Pat Summitt will be remembered as Pat as well as coach
When Pat Summitt became coach of the Tennessee women's basketball team in 1974, she decided that the players should refer to her simply as Pat.
'I didn't want them to be intimidated,' she said. 'I just thought that was the way to go.'
Pam Marr became aware of Summitt's preference while she was being recruited. The former Lady Vols point guard and team captain didn't need a reminder when she arrived at Tennessee as a freshman in 1982. Still, Marr had been raised to say 'yes, ma'am and no ma'am' and to be more respectful than familiar with someone like Summitt.
'You're not going to call someone who's an authority figure by their first name,' Marr said. 'I hadn't done that with any coach.'
Marr said that Summitt set her straight during a meeting in the coach's office. Summitt reiterated her wishes with a warm smile and a gentle reminder: 'You don't have to call me 'Coach.' It's just Pat.'
Summitt's choice looks pitch-perfect in retrospect. Since she died on June 28 after a five-year battle with early onset Alzheimer's disease, the countless tributes have highlighted her uncommon ability to connect with people.
Marr said that today her strongest mental image is one of Summitt dishing out mashed potatoes while cooking for the team rather than dispensing strategy or reprimands in the heat of battle.
The view of Summitt's choice, though, from the beginning of her 38-year coaching career probably wasn't as affirming. Her way wasn't paved by ease and comfort. She challenged her players, exhorted them and squeezed more effort out of them than they thought was possible. More than a few of them likely cursed her name along the way.
Marr remembered the pressure Summitt felt before coaching the U.S. women's Olympic team in 1984 because the Lady Vols bore the weight as well.
'It was difficult to have fun,' Marr said.
A player's perspective afforded Marr a better view of what she described as 'the yin and yang of Pat.'
'You learned not to ride the lows too long,' Marr said. 'You had to bounce back.'
In the end, the players collaborated on 1,098 victories, measured in 36 consecutive seasons of 20 or more and 20 seasons of 30-plus victories.
Twenty-two of the seasons reached a Final Four (4 AIAW, 18 NCAA) and eight ended with celebrating a national championship, starting in 1987 and stretching until 2008.
Twenty-one Lady Vols earned All-American honors on Summitt's watch. Multiple selections brought the final total to 36.
They also had a hand in 32 SEC championships, split evenly between regular-season and tournament titles.
When Summitt announced on April 18, 2012, that she was stepping down to become a head coach emeritus, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said he had surveyed Summitt's resume countless times and always reached the same conclusion.
'You think to yourself: somebody is making this up,' he said.
The scope of Summitt's career has challenged a favorite reference of some of her women's basketball coaching colleagues, who have called Summitt their John Wooden.
Another interesting choice, considering Summitt's way hasn't always followed a conventional path.
She danced on a table for players — with some assistance from those players — as a celebratory payoff for them winning the 1989 national championship.
She has dressed up over the years as everything from a pirate to a big-game hunter to a gas station attendant for Lady Vols media guide covers.
Her harried flight home from Pennsylvania recruiting trip in 1990 to give birth to her son, Tyler, is as much a part of Summitt's lore as all the victories.
This wing of the museum also features Summitt putting on a gorilla suit to lighten the mood for star player Candace Parker's official recruiting visit in 2003. In 2007, Summitt dressed up like a cheerleader and sang 'Rocky Top' to entertain a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd during a UT men's game against Florida. The following year, she used her forearm to knock a raccoon off the railing of her back deck to protect her yellow lab, Sally.
Such moments could fill an entire episode of 'America's Funniest Home Videos.' Those sort of occurrences don't bring to mind Wooden, the legendary men's basketball coach from UCLA. They speak of somebody less austere and more familiar.
When Summitt announced in August of 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease, her players began in earnest to sort through their thoughts and emotions about her. Former player Abby Conklin, who likely took Summitt's name in vain a time or two during her career, visited in January of 2012. She spoke of Summitt's influence as if she were still almost like a parental figure to Conklin.
The sorting process resumed when Summitt stepped down as coach. Former player Nicky Anosike recalled via Twitter about having the 'birds and bees' talk with Summitt. Another former player, Shyra Ely, remembered Summitt encouraging her to date a man who was shorter than her. Ely ended up marrying former UT men's guard Richard 'Pee Wee' Gash.
These were the memories they chose to share in a social media forum very personal in nature and involving someone who many have considered to be almost larger than life.
The postmortem has befitted an historic figure. President Barack Obama released a 410-word statement about Summitt the morning of her death, lauding a life well lived.
But, as previously noted, much of the acclaim also has illuminated a sense of humility. Although the sorting exercise has been greatly expanded, the memories and perspectives reinforce the legacy of someone who was more than a coach.
Everyone seems better off and Summitt's lasting image is sharpest by also remembering her as Pat.