To say Pat Summitt was “just a women’s basketball coach” is kind of like saying that Leonardo Da Vinci was “just an artist”.
As all of East TN and many others around the world mourn her passing today, it is amazing to consider what she accomplished as just a women’s basketball coach: the national titles, more than 1000 wins, every 4 year player graduating, the way she elevated all of women’s sports, the intensity she displayed, the stare, the way she got more out of players than they even knew they had to give, the way she continued to be there for her former players as they encountered life’s ups and downs. While many of us would have loved to have seen her be the first woman to coach a prominent men’s team, even in turning down the opportunity to do so she elevated the women’s game by showing in her decision that she did not consider the men’s game to be a better opportunity or a higher level of sport than the women’s game.
Watching Pat from the distance of fandom, what struck me most about her was her integrity. Every interview I ever saw, every action, everything anyone else ever said about her, it all spoke to her integrity. I think if Pat had ever run for public office I would have voted for her regardless of what party she chose simply for her integrity. Can you imagine walking into her office and trying to pressure her into voting for something she didn’t believe in? In the words of Mr. T, “I pity the fool” who would try something like that.
A few years ago, a bunch of sports media people got together and elected Coach John Wooden (the famous UCLA men’s basketball coach) as the greatest coach of any sport ever. To take nothing away from Coach Wooden’s amazing legacy, it needs to be said that when us East Tennesseans hear about some other coach being called the greatest in anything ever in good Southern style we just smile politely and wink at each other. Let the Hollywood folks have their parties and award ceremonies. We got the lady who mentored girls from the Tennessee backwoods into some of the greatest teams ever and we know exactly what we had in her.
Thinking about what Pat accomplished as “just a women’s basketball coach” makes me wonder what difference my life could make if, rather than always thinking I need to do something else to make difference, I learned to focus more on just being a husband, just being a father, just being a pastor, just being a Christian, just being a friend. What difference could you make if you focused on just being you?