Patricia Sue Summitt is the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history—in any division—men or women.
Born on June 14, 1952, on a tobacco and dairy farm in Clarksville, Tennessee, Patricia Head was the fourth of five children. The family lived in a two room cabin and worked hard—milking cows at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.—but also made time for playing basketball in the hayloft of the barn. “Trish” had three older brothers, all of whom would earn basketball scholarships, and competing against them made her tougher. Clarksville did not have a girls basketball team, so the family moved to nearby Henrietta so Summitt could play for Cheatham County High School, where she was a four-year starter and was named to the TSSAA All-District 20 team. She was also a dedicated student, never missing a day of school from kindergarten through high school. There were no athletic scholarships for women in 1970, so Summitt’s parents paid her way to University of Tennessee at Martin, where Trish played on the volleyball and basketball teams. Nadine Gearin was the first women’s basketball coach at UT-M and immediately saw the potential in Pat Summitt. Gearin honed her star’s skills on the basketball floor and also escorted Pat to tryouts and camps outside Tennessee to help her gain recognition at the national level. The 5’11” Summitt could shoot, defend and rebound and was named All-America as a junior at UT-M. In 1973, she made the U.S. team that won a silver medal in the World University Games in Moscow. One month later, she returned to Martin for her senior campaign, only to see it end after suffering a knee injury four games into the season. Summitt graduated as the Lady Pacers’ all –time leading scorer [1,045 points] and was hired as a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1974.
Patricia Sue Head was practically the same age as the seniors on her team when she was named the new head coach at Tennessee following the unexpected resignation of Margaret Hudson at the start of the 1974 season. She was 22 years old, pursuing a master’s degree and rehabilitating her knee in hopes of making the 1976 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball team. Summitt and the Lady Volunteers lost their first game to Mercer, 84-83, and went on to a 16-8 record for the 1974-75 season. Pat Summitt was named to the 1975 Pan Am Team, returned to coach UT to a 16-11 record while earning her master’s degree in Physical Education, and co-captained the U.S. team to a silver medal in the inaugural women’s basketball tournament at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. After the Games, she retired as a player and directed her energies to coaching. Women competed in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women [AIAW] until joining the NCAA in 1981-82. Pat Summitt earned $250 monthly to coach the Lady Vols. She also drove the team van and washed the player’s uniforms—purchased with proceeds for a donut sale. Summitt led the Lady Vols to a 28-5 record and third place finish in the AIAW Tournament in 1976-77–the first of 36 consecutive seasons that her teams won 20 or more games. Tennessee won their first NCAA championship in 1986-87, the first of three titles they would win over the next five years. UT played in the championship game four straight years from 1994 to 1998, winning three straight, including the 1997-98 team that went 39-0 and is considered one of the greatest teams in the history of women’s college basketball. Pat Summitt won her seventh NCAA championship in 2007 and cut down the nets for her eighth and final time the following year, leading the Lady Vols to a 66-5 mark in that two year span.
Pat Summitt won eight NCAA championships—the same number as Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp combined—in 38 seasons at Tennessee. Her overall coaching record is 1,098-208, making her the winningest coach in basketball history and one of four with 1,000 wins. Summitt appeared in 18 Final Fours, six more than John Wooden [Daily Dose, October 14] and her teams never had a losing record. She had 36 consecutive 20-win seasons, won 30 games 20 times, and made the postseason tournament every year she coached. Every Tennessee player that completed their eligibility under Pat Summitt graduated with a degree and 45 former players have become coaches. In 2009, she was ranked 11th on The Sporting News’ list of the 50 greatest coaches of all time [all sports] and is the only woman on the list. Summitt was named Sportswoman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2011, won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award [Daily Dose, September 8] and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Ms. Summitt coached Team U.S.A. to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, becoming the first U.S. Olympian to win a medal and coach a medal-winning team. She is a seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year, was named Coach of the Century in 2000 and is a member of the FIBA, Naismith, and Women’s Basketball Halls of Fame.