Summitt: It was a 'privilege' to coach at Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP/WRCB) - A relaxed and smiling Pat Summitt said "it has been a privilege" to be the Tennessee women's basketball coach four nearly four decades.
The Hall of Fame coach Thursday addressed her decision to step aside during a press conference.
After 38 years at Tennessee, the Hall of Fame coach who won more games than anyone else in NCAA college basketball talked about the move on the court named for her after her 1,000th win.
"I just felt like it was time for me to step down knowing that Holly (Warlick) was going to be in great hands," Summitt said of her replacement. "She's a great coach and you know I'm going to continue to support her. You know It's never a good time but you have to find the time that you think is the right time and that is now."
She will assume a new role as head coach emeritus and report to athletic director Dave Hart, adding she'll still be a fixture at practice.
"I'm gonna be in practice still, yelling at the team," she cracked. "They may not like that, but it makes me feel good."
Warlick said Summitt will be involved in on-campus recruiting, mentoring of players, and in just about every possible other way she can help the program. Summitt said she knows of no other way to approach it than full speed ahead.
"I made a choice early in my career to challenge myself to step up my game each and every day," Summitt said. "You can be sure I will take this same attitude into my new role as head coach emeritus and continue to teach our players the same commitment. I can promise you ladies I'm here for you. Trust me that will happen."
The 59-year-old coach revealed Aug. 23 that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Summitt's longtime assistant Holly Warlick has been promoted to replace her.
Summitt rose to embrace her Warlick, a former UT point guard whose jersey hangs in the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena, then handed over the "reigns" of the Lady Vols' program.
"It is now time to turn over my whistle to you," Summitt said to a standing ovation.
Summitt's farewell came just after she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
President Barack Obama says 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."
Summitt recalled the letter that contained the original job offer from Tennessee, which asked if she'd be interested in coaching a team "with lots of potential." At 22-years-old, she accepted the position for a salary of $250 per month.
Thirteen years later Summitt won the first of her eight national championships, raising the bar for every Lady Vol who followed. Her 1,098 career wins stand alone atop the list in both men's and women's NCAA history.
During her time, Tennessee never failed to reach the NCAA tournament, never received a seed lower than No. 5 and reached 18 Final Fours. Those Final Fours tie the UCLA and North Carolina men for the most all-time by a college basketball program, and she never had a season with a losing record.
Every Lady Vol player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee graduated under Summitt, 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.
A local fundraiser for the Pat Summitt Foundation was already in the works before this week's announcement. Former Lady Vol and Bradley Central grad Brittany Jackson is hosting an inaugural "Evening with the Stars" in Ooltewah on May 12, which will be co-hosted by former Chattanooga standout and NFL great Terrell Owens.
"I'm just very honored to be able to give back to Pat," Jackson said. "She has given me so much in the form of discipline both on and off the court, and helped me build character. She teaches her players that because you have a personal relationship with her.
"To be able to give back to her is wonderful, and it gives me a chance to give back to my community as well that has followed me throughout my career."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.