Summitt, Patricia Head

views updated May 21 2018

Patricia Head Summitt


American college basketball coach

Patricia Head Summitt is one of college basketball's greatest coaches. In 2003, during her 29th season with the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, Summitt earned her 800th win. She is the first women's basketball coach and one of four Division I coaches to hit that mark. Summitt's six National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships are surpassed only by UCLA men's coach John Wooden 's ten. Summitt is an inspiration in her childhood hometown of Henrietta, Tennessee, where the city limits sign proclaims: Welcome to Henrietta, home of Pat Head Summitt.

Learns Discipline on Farm

Summitt was born into the Henrietta farm family of Richard and Hazel Head. She grew up northwest of Nashville, in a part of the state dotted with tobacco barns, lean-tos, and one-lane blacktop roads.

Summitt, or Trish, as she was known back then, learned about the payoffs of hard work as she came of age on the family dairy and tobacco farm. From her father, Summit learned about disciplined guidance, about how to prod people beyond their potential. It's a lesson she learned well. Summit has often retold how at 12, her father dumped her off in the middle of an endless hayfield, gestured toward the tractor, and left. Completing the task was grueling, but Summit learned about her own potential, and also about expecting the maximum out of people. Consequently, she has become known as a demanding coach.

Plays on Barn-loft Court

Despite the endless chores, Summit and her three older brothers found time for play. They would climb to the top of the barn loft and play two-on-two basketball on the makeshift court, shooting jump shots among the rafters. Summit took her skills to Chatham

County High School in Ashland City and played from 1967-70. Her senior year, she was an All-District 20 Tournament choice.

In the fall of 1970, the 5-foot-11Summitt began playing basketball at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where she established herself as a defensive ace and accurate shooter. Over four seasons, she led the team to a 64-29 record and graduated in 1974 as the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,045 points.

However, during Summitt's senior season, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and a surgeon told her to give up the sport. At the time, sports rehabilitation was in its infancy, and ACL tears forced most professional athletes into retirement. Summit, however, had her sights set on the 1976 Olympics. Women's basketball was new to the Games that year, and Summit yearned to make the inaugural team.

Builds Basketball Powerhouse

Over the next two decades, Summit modeled her basketball empire after her father's example of steady, disciplined guidance. She demands a lotplayers must sit in the first three rows of the classroom, and if they skip a class, they're benched. On the court, she demands even more, and though playing for Summitt is tough, her players concede she changes their lives in positive ways.

"She makes you feel there's nothing to be afraid of in life," Michelle Marciniak, Most Valuable Player of the 1996 Final Four for the champion Lady Vols, told Sports Illustrated. "If you want something, you go after it as hard as you can, and you make no excuses."

Summitt's methods have worked. Her teams have won six NCAA titles (1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998). Her 1997-98 squad had a perfect season of 39-0, and won the NCAA championship. Summitt has also produced 11 Olympians and 16 Kodak All-Americans. At the end of the 2001-2002 basketball season, Summitt had a phenomenal collegiate record of 788-158, a win percentage of .833. Win No. 800 came on January 14, 2003, a 76-57 victory over DePaul at home. Under her direction, the Vols have also captured 21 Southeastern Conference tournament and regular-season championships. She also coached the 1984 women's U.S. Olympic basketball team to its first gold.

Along the way, Summitt also found time for a family. She married banker R.B. Summitt in 1980. A decade later, she gave birth to Ross Tyler Summitt, a fixture alongside the Lady Vols' bench. Summitt's son, incidentally, was almost born in an airplane because even though Summitt was in labor, she insisted on making a recruiting visit to Pennsylvania because she feared losing an All-American to Notre Dame.

Record Hard to Beat

Still going strong, Summitt has raised the bar for women's coaches. As former UCLA coach Billie Moore told USA Today, "She's going to set a standard that I don't want to say will be impossible to beat but it will be very, very difficult to duplicate."

Years from now, Sports Illustrated 's Gary Smith writes, "her players will tell of this woman who never rased a placard or a peep for women's rights, who never filed a suit or overturned a statute or gave a flying hoot about isms or movements, this unconscious revolutionary who's tearing up the terrain of sexual stereotypes and seeding it with young women who have an altered vision of what a female can be."


1952Born June 14 in Henrietta, Tennessee
1970High school All-District 20 Tournament selection
1970Graduates from Chatham County High School in Ashland City, Tennessee, and enters the University of Tennessee-Martin
1974Receives bachelor's degree in physical education from UT-Martin; becomes head coach of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Lady Volunteers
1975Receives master's degree in physical education from UT-Knoxville
1976Plays for United States at Montreal Olympic Games
1980Marries RB Summit
1990Gives birth to Ross Tyler Summitt on September 21

Summitt is also active in many community endeavors. First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton honored her at the White House in 1997 as among Working Woman magazine's 25 Most Influential Working Mothers. Summitt's name was also in the news in the late 1990s as a possible candidate for U.S. Senate. She says her book, Reach for the Summit: The Definite Dozen System for Succeeding at Whatever You Do, is for everyone, not just coaches.


Address: 117 Stokely Athletics Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, 37996. Phone: (865) 974-4275. Email: [email protected] Online:


(With Debby Jennings) Basketball. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown, 1991.

(With Debby Jennings) Basketball: Fundamentals and Team Play. Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark, 1996.

(With Sally Jenkins) Raise the Roof: The Inspiring Inside Story of the Tennessee Lady Vols Undefeated 1997-98 Season. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.

Awards and Accomplishments

1973Captures silver medal as member of U.S. World Games team
1975Earns gold medal as member of U.S. basketball team at Pan American Games
1976Earns silver medal as member of U.S. basketball team at Olympics in Montreal
1979Coaches U.S. women's basketball team to gold at the Pan American Games
1984Coaches U.S. women's basketball team to its first Olympic gold
1987, 1989Leads Lady Vols to NCAA championship; named Naismith College Coach of the Year
1990Receives the Basketball Hall of Fame's John Bunn Award
1991Leads Lady Vols to NCAA championship
1993Named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Coach of the Year
1994Named Naismith College Coach of the Year
1995Named SEC Coach of the Year
1996-98Leads Lady Vols to three consecutive NCAA championships
1997-98Leads Lady Vols to a perfect 39-0 record
1998Naismith College Coach of the Year and SEC Coach of the Year
2000Inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inaugural class
2000Named Naismith Women's Collegiate Coach of the Century
2003First women's college basketball coach and fourth overall to win 800 games

(With Sally Jenkins) Reach for the Summit: The Definite Dozen System for Succeeding at Whatever You Do. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.



Patrick, Dick. "800 Wins." USA Today (December 20, 2002).

Smith, Gary. "Eyes of the Storm." Sports Illustrated (March 2, 1998).

"Summit Wins No. 800.#x201D; The New York Times (January 15, 2003).


"Hall of Famers: Pat Head Summit." Basketball Hall of Fame. (January 13, 2003).

"Pat Summit." University of Tennessee Basketball. (January 13, 2003).

"Pat Summit Profile." University of Tennessee Women's Collegiate Athletics. (January 13, 2003).

Sketch by Lisa Frick

Summitt, Patricia Head

views updated May 29 2018

Summitt, Patricia Head

June 14, 1952 Henrietta, Tennessee

Women's basketball coach

Pat Summitt, head coach of Tennessee University's women's basketball team, the Lady Vols, is one of the most successful coaches in collegiate basketball history. She has won six NCAA titlesonly John Wooden, former coach of the men's basketball team at UCLA has won more, with ten NCAA championships to his credit. Summitt began her career as a college basketball player, later playing in two Olympics. Hard work, drive, and determination have led her to over eight hundred career wins in less than thirty years.

Learns work ethic on the farm

Summit was born Patricia Head on June 14, 1952, in Henrietta, Tennessee. She was the fourth child and only daughter of Richard and Hazel, who ran a farm. Summitt participated in all the chores necessary on a farm, and learned how to hold her own against her older brothers. She also learned basketball from them. Most evenings, after completing their chores, she and her brothers would climb the twenty-foot barn ladder to the top of the hayloft and play two-on-two basketball. She loved the game but, once she reached high school, she found out that her school district did not offer girls' basketball. Her father, supportive of her talent, moved the family across the county line to a school district that had girls' basketball.

Summit graduated from Cheatham County High in Ashland, in 1970. She then attended the University of Tennessee-Martin, earning a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1974. As a college student, she played with the Lady Pacers, the university's women's basketball team. As a junior she played in the U.S. World University Games, held in the Soviet Union, winning the silver medal. She hoped to play on the U.S. Olympic team, but those hopes were nearly dashed when, during her senior year, she suffered a knee injury. An orthopedic surgeon told Summitt that she would not be able to play basketball again. But Summitt would not give up. Strengthened by her father's insistence that the doctor "needed to fix her knee because she was going to the Olympics," Summit told her best friend, according to Sports Illustrated, "That doctor's crazy as heck if he thinks I'm not going to play ball again!" The upcoming 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada, would be the first time that women would play Olympic basketball, and Summitt did not want to miss out in this historic opportunity.

"I tell kids ... 'If you're lazy, stay as far away from me and our program as you can because you'll be miserable.' We work hard."

After graduation, she was offered a job as the women's basketball assistant coach for her alma mater. After the head coach quit to pursue Ph.D. studies, Summitt, just twenty-two years old, was made head coach. She had never coached a game before and had no assistant coach. But she pushed her fear aside and threw herself into this new challenge. In addition to coaching, she also worked on her master's degree and taught physical education courses. At the same time, she worked on healing her knee and training herself for her Olympic dream. She worked out twice a day, losing twenty-seven pounds. Within a year, her knee was well enough for her to compete in the 1975 Pan American Games. The U.S. team won the gold medal. She was then named to the U.S. Olympic team and selected co-captain. The team claimed the silver medal in Montreal.

Wins first NCAA Championship

Summitt returned to her duties as head coach of the University of Tennessee-Martin's Lady Volunteers (often called simply the Lady Vols), guiding the team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Final Four. The Lady Vols finished 16-8 that season. Summitt continued to play herself throughout the rest of the 1970s, playing in the World Championships and the Pan American Games. She looked forward to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but was forced to sit this Olympics out, since the United States boycotted the 1980 games in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But in 1984 Summitt went to the Olympics once again, this time as a coach. The U.S. team won the gold medal, securing its place in history as the first U.S. women's basketball team to take home the gold.

Her coaching success continued at the University of Tennessee, where she won the NCAA championships in 1987 and 1989. She was then granted the Basketball Hall of Fame's highest honor, the John Bunn Award. This 1990 award marked the first time that a woman had been so honored. In the 1990s the Lady Vols won four NCAA championships: 1991, 1996, 1997, and 1998. The team became the first women's basketball team ever to win three NCAA titles in a row.

With six NCAA championships under her belt, Summitt was recognized with numerous awards. She was named coach of the year three times by the Southeastern Conference (SEC)1993, 1995, and 1998. She became the first women's college basketball coach to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997. The following year she was named both the Naismith Coach of the Year and the Sporting News Coach of the Year. In 1999 she was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Summitt was subsequently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, only the fourth women's basketball coach to be inducted. Also in 2000 she was named the Naismith Coach of the Century. Despite all these awards, Summitt would not accept full credit for the success of the Lady Vols. "It bothers me that there is so much focus on me...." she told Antonya English of the St. Petersburg Times. "It's about players; put the focus on the players."

Expects much from her players

The success of her players, however, is due in part to the high expectations Summitt has for them. She demands that they perform well academically, and insists they sit in the first three rows of their classes. Every player who has stayed with the Tennessee program has graduated. Her players describe Summitt as a harsh taskmaster, but also very caring. She pushes them to excel, and instills in them the same strong work ethic that she first learned on the family farm. According to her profile on the University of Tennessee Women's Collegiate Athletics Web Site, she "constantly challenges them to reach their potential as a student and an athlete."

In January of 2003 Summitt became the first female coach to win eight hundred games. The following season she coached her one-thousandth game. Summitt is also the coauthor of two books; Reach for the Summitt (1998) is a motivational book, and Raise the Roof (1998) chronicles the Lady Vols' undefeated 1998 season. More than that, the book, said Summitt according to Sports Illustrated, "is about trading in old, narrow definitions of femininity for a more complete one. It's about exploring all the possibilities in yourself." Ron Fimrite noted in Sports Illustrated that the book "represents a gratifying breakthrough in the literature of women's sports."

Additionally, Summitt is involved in numerous community organizations. She is a spokesperson for the United Way, Juvenile Diabetes, and Race for the Cure. She also serves as spokesperson for Verizon Wireless' HopeLine Program, which collects used cell phones, resells or recycles them, and donates the proceeds to victims of domestic violence. In 1980 she married R. B. Summitt, a bank executive. The couple lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with one son, Ross Tyler Summitt.

For More Information


English, Antonya. St. Petersburg Times (March 9, 1999): p. 1C.

Fimrite, Ron. "Sky's the Limit." Sports Illustrated (November 16, 1998): p. 15.

Smith, Gary. "Eye of the Storm." Sports Illustrated (March 2, 1998).

Web Sites

"Pat Summitt Profile." University of Tennessee Women's Collegiate Athletics. (accessed on August 25, 2004).

"Patricia Head Summitt." Biography Resource Center Online. Gale Group, 1999. (accessed on August 25, 2004).