Following a five-year battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, legendary N.C.A.A. basketball coach Pat Summitt died on Tuesday. She was just 64 years old.
Over 38 seasons at the University of Tennessee, Summitt won eight national basketball championships and more games than any other Division I coach, a considerable force in stirring national recognition for women’s college basketball. Summitt, once a formidable player herself, was co-captain of the silver medal-winning 1976 women’s Olympic team; by 1984, she was head coach at the Los Angeles games, where her team won the gold. She landed her first coaching job at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville right after graduating at age 22 in 1974, nearly a decade before the N.C.A.A. even began sponsoring women’s basketball.
Over the next four decades, she led the Lady Vols to 1,098 victories and recruited some of the all-time best collegiate women’s basketball players, including Candace Parker, Tamika Catchings, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Kara Lawson. Many of her former players this week had been visiting Summitt at the retirement center where she has been living since January.
Summitt was also a notorious hardass, both on and off the court, and her player stare-downs were legend. From the New York Times:
She opened her locker room to television cameras and gave viewers an unfiltered look at her demanding style, her steely glare and her unapologetically withering remarks to her players and to referees. Her hands pounded the court with such intensity sometimes that she flattened the rings on her fingers and had to have them rerounded in the off-season.
A month before she won her final championship, in 2008, Ms. Summitt dislocated her shoulder while shoving a raccoon off the deck of her home in Knoxville, then tried for two hours to reset her shoulder before calling a doctor.
The Times reports that her salary eventually reached $1.25 million per year, and that she was once approached by officials about coaching the men’s team at Tennessee. (“Why is that considered a step up?” she asked when declining the offer.)
Summitt announced her diagnosis of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type in 2011 and retired in 2012, taking the role of “head coach emeritus” and starting the Pat Summitt Foundation to fund research and awareness efforts for Alzheimer’s disease. That same year, President Obama presented Summitt with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Coach Summitt is an inspiration—both as the all-time winningest NCAA coach, and as someone who is willing to speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer’s,” Obama said in a statement at the time.
Image via Getty: Summitt celebrates after cutting down the net after Tennessee’s 59-46 win against Rutgers in the 2007 NCAA Championship Game.