Allow us to take a moment to acknowledge the end of an era in college athletics with the news that Pat Summitt will step aside as coach of the University of Tennessee women's team.
Summitt has been battling Alzheimer's-type early onset dementia and bravely attempted to coach this season, but the ongoing health struggles proved too much and the legendary coach will give up her head coaching duties and assume the title of head coach emeritus. Lady Vols assistant coach Holly Warlick, who has been with the program for 27 years and who led the team much of this season as associate head coach, will be named to replace Summitt at a press conference in Knoxville on Thursday.
Summitt is the sport's all-time winningest coach with a career record of 1,098-208 in 38 seasons, a mark that may never be approached, much less topped. She defined women's basketball and represented the sport with grace and class. And I say this with personal knowledge, having met and worked with Coach Summitt on a number of occasions.
It is hard not to draw the parallels between Summitt and Dean Smith. Both won multiple national championships and defined their sport for two generations. They were also the epitome of class and left lasting marks at their respective universities and among their players. They were each the winningest coach in their sport when they retired and were replaced by longtime assistants. They were each highly regarded by their former players and those players looked upon teammates and their program as a family. And sadly, both are now suffering from neurocognitive disorders. The difference, of course, is that Smith is 82 years old, while Summitt is only 59.
The other Carolina connection is that, with Summitt's retirement, UNC's Sylvia Hatchell who was already 4th on the women's college basketball all-time career wins list, now trails only C. Vivian Stringer of Rutgers in wins among active coaches with 879 career victories.
Farewell and best wishes in Pat Summit's retirement and her battle with Alzheimer's.