The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

74° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Niya Butts reacts to Pat Summitt’s retirement

Gary W. Green
Tennessee head coach Pat Summit yells during the first half of a semifinal game in the NCAA Women’s Final Four at the St. Petersburg Times Forum on Sunday, April 6, 2008, in Tampa, Florida. (Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

She’s won more games than Bobby Knight, John Wooden and Lute Olson. She has eight NCAA national championship rings, second only to Wooden in college basketball history.

For Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach, the list of accomplishments goes on and on.

On Wednesday, her storybook coaching career came to an end as the NCAA’s (men or women) all-time winningest coach stepped down as head coach of the Lady Volunteers after 38 years. Longtime UT assistant coach Holly Warlick has been promoted to replace her.

Arizona head coach Niya Butts played for Summitt at Tennessee from 1997-2000, and was a part of two of Summitt’s eight championship teams. But, Butts said, Summitt’s legacy is not limited to her impact on the basketball court.

“She helped this game grow tremendously,” Butts said. “She touched so many lives, including mine, and she is the ideal coach, the ideal woman … She’s legendary. She’s done things in our game that will never be done again. And if you can’t appreciate that, you can’t appreciate basketball. Not just women’s basketball, but basketball.”

Vacating the head coaching position she’s held for the Volunteers for nearly four decades did not come as a huge surprise to many, including Butts. On Aug. 23, Summitt revealed that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.

“It’s hard to believe it’s happening,” Butts said. “But obviously everyone kind of knows what she’s battling and what she’s going through. Sometimes it’s just time, and I certainly want her to live the best life she can possibly live. Right now she needs to focus on her.”

Despite the severity of her illness, Summitt continued to coach in 2011 in what proved to be her swan song. As to be expected at this point from the Clarksville, Tenn., native, the Lady Vols still made it all the way to the Elite Eight, even with Summitt’s illness hanging over the team’s head.

“It was really a great ride for me,” Summitt said in a nationally televised press conference on Thursday morning.

A great ride, indeed. So great, in fact, that America’s own commander-in-chief felt compelled to take action.

Summitt will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom later this year, an award that is considered the nation’s highest civilian honor, according to a White House announcement.

President Barack Obama said Summitt is an “inspiration” as the coach who has won more games than anyone else in NCAA college basketball history and for her willingness to “speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer’s.”

For a basketball lifer like Summitt, even after stepping down, full retirement is not a reasonable option for her. She will now take on the role of head coach emeritus. The new job, among other things, allows her to remain an adviser to the basketball program and to the school’s athletic director.

Her impact on college sports even extends to the classroom, as Summitt has graduated a stunning 100 percent of her student-athletes in her 38 years as head coach. The average graduation rate in women’s basketball is 83 percent.

“She knows that, in life, basketball is not going to last forever and you can appreciate that as a coach,” Butts said. “That’s one of the reasons why we stay on our kids about making sure you take pride in your academics, and making sure you take pride in your image off the floor as well.

“The one lesson she taught me that I always use is to discipline yourself so no one else has to.”

More to Discover
Activate Search