Farewell, Coach Summitt
A tribute to the legendary coach.
by Cub Buenning / @cubbuenning
In the spring of 2006, my wife and I welcomed our first of two daughters into the world. This offspring of a union of two former college basketball players each well over average height, was destined to a life most likely influenced by sports and, specifically, the world of basketball.
That child—who now just turned 6—was subjected to the early morning World Cup matches that first summer and, the following winter, brought hours and hours of basketball on the television whether it was primetime NBA games or DVR’d NCAA games at “O-Dark Hundred.”
“Hoops” was one of her first words and throwing down tomahawks on her living room hoop immediately became a favorite pastime.
The basketball indoctrination was all pretty organic due to the setting of her upbringing, but there were a few items and images that I overtly forced onto the poor child. There were the names of “LeBron,” “Chauncey,” “Melo” and even “Blake” most recently, but one that was most important is no longer going to be easy for her to spot. That person would be the first that I would point out whenever her likeness flashed on a television screen or magazine page.
“She’s the best coach ever! She coaches at Tennessee,” I would implore.
“The orange school?” my eldest would respond, as I quickly nodded my head. “Does she coach just girls or boys too?”
“Just girls, but she could coach anyone,” I could say with hasty certainty.
It helped that during my daughter’s first few winters, the Volunteers were dominating in usual form winning multiple National Championships, including the Candace Parker-led teams of 2007 and 2008. It helped that everything that Coach Summitt stood for—in terms of importance on education, discipline and confidence—was exactly what I wanted to impart on my daughters.
When a young Coach Summitt abruptly vaulted from a graduate assistant to the head coach at Tennessee, she was just 22 years old. Unlike the story of other historic coaching names like Lombardi and Wooden, Coach Summitt didn’t go through much in the growing pains department. In just her third season, she turned the Vols into a 20-win team and the rest is history.
This is “history” that I wanted my family to be a part of. Being a Colorado/California-groomed family, Tennessee is not the ideal landing spot for your offspring to attend college, but my wife and I wanted nothing more than to see them end up in Knoxville to play for Coach Summitt.
Just a couple years ago, I even went as far as to “do the math” to see if the Hall-of-Fame coach could be still roaming the sidelines at Thompson-Boling Arena. (I mean, “Pat Summitt Court at Thompson-Boiling Arena.”) She would have been 72 (much like Larry Brown today) and with her energy, seemingly good health and drive, it didn’t seem totally out of the question.
Wednesday’s announcement of Coach Summitt’s retirement made me happy, actually. The recent year’s health scares, culminating in the 2011 diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s, I knew the dream for our girls was not going to happen. Watching her “coach” this past spring’s NCAA Tournament was a tough one to see, as she deferred to her long-time assistant and was a shell of her former fiery self. The legacy of Coach Summitt deserved a better conclusion.
Fortunately, I was privy to a touching tribute to her and the Olympic coaches during the national semifinals here in Denver. I was walking out at halftime of one of the two games and there she stood ready to take the floor. As I froze just inches away, I realized she was being called on to the floor. I reversed my path and made it back to my courtside spot for the ceremony. The faces, clapping hands and flowing tears of the 20,000 in attendance emanated one feeling: Love. Something that Coach Pat Summitt gave to the game of basketball for her entire life. She gave everyone her undying love for the sport—the people involved and the pursuit of mentoring strong, independent young women.
The type of women who I want my two girls to grow up to be.
On the same day that Coach Summitt stepped down from the position she had held for almost four decades, her only child, Tyler, was hired as an assistant coach at Marquette.
A boy whose life was shaped day-in and day-out by this legendary individual, now grown and able to impart the Xs and Os he learned through days and nights on the road and in-gym with the game of basketball’s greatest coach, ever. No discussion necessary.
Thank you Coach Summitt. I can only imagine the pride you have for your own child today.