Her career was cut short by the disease that took away her memory and took her off the court she dominated for nearly four decades. In her final days, she was surrounded by close family, friends, and former athletes. When it was clear that her health had significantly declined, there was a widespread outpouring of support, including from her former rivals.
University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who now holds the record for the most NCAA championship titles for women’s basketball with 11, said Summitt raised the bar for women’s basketball. “She was the one that everyone tried to emulate,” he recently said. “That was the program everyone tried to be.”
Indeed, Summitt was a seven-time NCAA coach of the year, and led her team to 22 Final Four appearances and 16 Southeastern Conference Tournament titles. When her team won its third title in a row during the 1997-98 season, the Lady Vols had a perfect 39-0 record.
When Tennessee beat Arkansas on February 7, 2002, she was the first college basketball coach to win 1,000 games. She also had a .840 winning percentage, with just 208 career losses.
The light orange of the Tennessee uniforms was “a shade that our rivals hate, a bold, aggravating color that you can usually find on a roadside crew, or in a correctional institution,” she said. When her team played at home—on the court that is now called “The Summitt”—the Volunteers were nearly unbeatable, with a 504-48 overall record.
Known for her piercing gaze during games, she was a tough coach who knew discipline. As one of her former players said in 2013:
“We got beat by Vandy, first time ever. And we got off the bus at 3:30, went straight to her office, watched the game film, everyone had to confess everything they did wrong in the game. She told us we had five minutes to get our uniforms back on that we just played in, and go to practice.”
All 161 players that Summitt coached during her time at the University of Tennessee graduated from college. Her former athletes said she cared deeply for them. Summitt once said, “I won 1,098 games, and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades. But what I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.”
And she never really left the team. Even in her final years, she held the position of head coach emeritus.
Her impact went beyond Tennessee and the university’s basketball program. She was a national role model. When she was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2012, President Obama noted:
“When I think about my two daughters, who are tall and gifted, and knowing that because of folks like Coach Summitt they’re standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong, then I understand that the impact that these people have had extends beyond me.”
After she died, Obama mourned the loss to Rocky Top and the country. “For four decades, she outworked her rivals, made winning an attitude, loved her players like family, and became a role model to millions of Americans, including our two daughters,” the president said in a statement.