Under the guidance of coach Pat Summit, Tennessee has set the standard of excellence for women’s basketball for three decades.
Lady Vols elevated the game to a level playing that earned her eight NCAA championships, 18 Final Four games, and 1,098 victories during the Summitt tenure from 1974 to 2012. During that time, the Tennessee men’s basketball team had seven coaches, no titles and no four finals.
So, when it was inevitably suggested that Summit lead the men’s Vols program, the first college men’s or women’s basketball coach passed to reach 1,000 wins.
“I think women should help women,” she said.
Then she went even further: “I don’t want people to think I looked at the men’s match as a step forward.”
Pioneers of the ninth address in Tennessee
►Benita Fitzgerald Mosley turns women’s chances into Olympic gold
►Teresa Phillips blew past the frontier, taking Tennessee to the next level
►Susan Ross developed one of the first Memphis programs approved for women
►Tracy Colkins Stockwell set the standard for women’s swimming
Sumit, as its name suggests, has never been in second place. She didn’t view women’s sports as secondary either.
Set for less than $9,000 two years after Act Nine became law, it helped usher in an era of women’s sports where the average salary for a Division I women’s basketball coach today is $750,000, USA TODAY reports.
As the law ensuring equality in women’s sports began to raise the bar for high school and collegiate programs, Summit was fighting more realistic battles for the training space of a multi-use gym.
From a Clarksville farming family with a collar in Hayloft, Samet, born Patricia Sue Head, battles her three older siblings. Her family moved to Henrietta to find a team she could play in, and Sumit pushed her own way to college to be on the Tennessee-Martin roster. She accepted the job at UT when she was a senior.
Watch:Remember when Pat Summit dressed up as a Tennessee cheerleader and sang Rocky Top
Growing up playing a game that limited women’s potential, literally, by forbidding them to play the entire court, Summit took the game far beyond what anyone had ever seen.
“Without Tennessee, there is no Connecticut,” said three-time WNBA champ, 10-time WNBA All-Star, Diana Torassi, a five-time Olympic gold medalist and a member of three consecutive UConn title-winning teams.
Husky, under coach Gino Orima, won 11 national championships and reached 22 quadruple finals. They followed the Lady Falls dynasty themselves. Last season, they were runners-up for Don Staley’s team in South Carolina.
So the torch is passed, but it may not burn more brightly than in Samet’s hand.
She continued training through the 2011-12 season after sharing her early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis, succumbing to the disease in 2016 at age 64.
I left a blueprint for how to build success. She left a mark in the history of Tennessee Orange women’s sports, and it is lasting.
“I was a fan of her and the way she led our game with passion and depth,” Staley said after Samet’s death. “I can think of no one I would like to follow in his footsteps but his. I have passed the torch to all the coaches; now it is our turn to make them proud.”