KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summitt, who won more games than anyone in NCAA college basketball history, stepped down Wednesday as coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols, less than eight months after revealing she had early-onset dementia.
“I’ve loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role,” the 59-year-old Hall of Famer said in a statement issued by the school.
Longtime assistant Holly Warlick will take over for Summitt, who will become head coach emeritus.
A news conference is scheduled Thursday afternoon at the school in Knoxville.
When the Lady Vols lost in a regional final to eventual national champion Baylor, Warlick’s tears were a telltale sign of how draining the season had been and also that it likely was Summitt’s last game.
“She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting,” athletic director Dave Hart said. “Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt. I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role. She is an inspiration to everyone.”
Summitt will report to Hart in her new role while assisting the program she guided to eight national titles since taking over in 1974.
Tennessee said that Summitt’s responsibilities will include helping with recruiting, watching practice, joining staff meetings, helping coaches analyze practice and games and advising the Southeastern Conference on women’s basketball issues and mentoring players.
“Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. “In her new role, I’m sure she will continue to make significant impacts to the University of Tennessee and to the game of women’s basketball as a whole.
“I am thrilled for (Warlick) as this opportunity is well deserved and Pat will be a huge asset to her moving forward,” he said.
Warlick, a three-time All-American who played for Summitt, was her assistant for 27 years.
Hart said he watched Warlick grow this season under what he called “unique circumstances” and that she is deserving of the head job.
“Her mentor will be available for insight and advice, but this is Holly’s team now,” Hart said.
Warlick said she was thankful for all Summitt has done in preparing her for this opportunity as her coach, mentor and friend.
“We will work as hard as we possibly can with the goal of hanging more banners in Thompson-Boling Arena,” Warlick said.
One of Summitt’s former stars, Tamika Catchings, saw the news on TV during a meeting.
“Everyone in the back of their minds was thinking this was going to happen anyway. Holly will do a good job,” she said.
Last season, while Summitt devoted more attention to her health, Warlick took the lead during games and handled postgame interviews, while the entire staff handled recruiting and practices. Even so, Summitt still managed to put on her trademark icy stare a time or two during the tournament.
“As I’ve said many times, Pat Summitt is a pioneer in basketball,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Her amazing career accomplishments are among an elite group of leaders. Very few people leave a lasting legacy in their chosen professions and Coach Summitt has done just that at the University of Tennessee and in women’s basketball. She raised the level of commitment, pride and notoriety of her sport. I am honored to call her a friend.”
Summitt’s diagnosis came during one of the Lady Vols’ most disappointing stretches — by Summitt’s lofty standards, anyway. Tennessee hasn’t won a national championship since 2008 and hasn’t even reached the Final Four, which ties for its longest such drought in program history.
Tennessee’s five seniors were part of the team that lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, the only time in school history the Lady Vols had bowed out on the first weekend.
Those seniors promised they would win a ninth national championship this season — not just for Summitt, but as center Vicki Baugh put it, ” … for everyone who has Alzheimer’s.”
But they couldn’t make it back to the Final Four, losing to Baylor and Brittney Griner, a player Summitt couldn’t convince to come to Knoxville.
Summitt’s career ends with a 1,098-208 record, 16 regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and 16 SEC tournament titles.
During her time, Tennessee never failed to reach the NCAA tournament, never received a seed lower than No. 5 and reached 18 Final Fours.
Her impact reaches beyond wins and losses. Every Lady Vol player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated, and 74 former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are currently among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball.
“You think about the University of Tennessee and you think of Pat Summitt,” Catchings said. “You don’t think of anyone else. The great players that have come and gone, coaches that have come and gone, but the legacy that she built for herself and for the university. It’s amazing how far women’s basketball has come. Her legacy isn’t over yet.”