Mar 4, 2012; Nashville,TN, USA; Never beaten, never broken. (Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE)
You can have the stats if you like - let's just pepper through them, although you know them by heart now: 1,098 wins, 8 national championships, 16 SEC regular season titles, 16 SEC tournament titles, 21 All-Americans, 8-time SEC Coach of the year, 7-time National Coach of the Year, 1 gold medal. I probably left a bunch out, too.
Still, you and I know those stats don't matter. Pat Summitt was never an accumulation of statistics, of victories, of championships, of titles. You don't coach somewhere for 38 years (confession time: I've never known a Lady Vol head coach who wasn't Pat Summitt before, oh, 3 hours ago or so) by just being the woman behind the bench, bringing in top-ranked class after top-ranked class, cutting down nets, and winning. You don't get the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame 15 minutes from your arena by just being there. You don't play on a court named after you by just showing up.
Some coaches get to be called institutions. That happens when you put enough coaches in the ranks that about half the games you play in a season are against people you either had on your staff, coached, or heavily influenced. That happens when other schools recognize the quality of your product and want to emulate what you've done - not just the on-court performance (although that helps), but the off-court stuff as well. That happens because you put women through your program who graduate, who learn, and who carry that knowledge on with them the rest of their lives.
Pat Summitt is an institution. Not many coaches get to say that, full stop. Her program has influenced thousands of people, changed lives, and - yes - won a heck of a lot of basketball games. (More than anyone else who's coached a game in the NCAAs, if you want to get technical about it.). Whether or not she's the head coach has nothing to do with what she's done, and will have nothing to do with what she does as long as there's a Tennessee Lady Volunteer basketball program. The program will be defined by Coach Summitt, up in lights and on the court, and none of us would have it any other way.
So yes, Pat Summitt stepped down as the head coach today. That doesn't change a thing. Holly Warlick is the head coach now, but that doesn't change a thing. Coach Summitt will continue to do - let's be honest - whatever the heck she wants to do. Attend practice? Sure. Talk to players? Of course. Recruit? Yes indeed. (When in doubt, remember: who's gonna tell her no?) Whatever Summitt's role, that doesn't change what this program is and who it looks up to.
And yes, we know why Pat Summitt stepped down. It was time; not our definition of time, mind you, but hers. That's how it is, and that's how it's going to be, from now until the end. And yes, there is an end, at some point for a day that's not today, and probably isn't tomorrow, and more than likely isn't the day after that. This isn't a time to be sad; that time will come, and we'll know when that time is. Until that time, Pat Summitt will be the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Go Lady Vols.