Pat Summitt Biography

Head coach of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's women's basketball team

Born Patricia Head, June 14, 1952, in Ashland City, TN; daughter of Richard and Hazel Head; married R.B. Summitt (a bank president); children: Ross Tyler. Education: University of Tennessee at Martin, B.S. (physical education), 1974; University of Tennessee at Knoxville, M.S. (physical education), 1975.


Office —117 Stokely Athletics Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996.


Played basketball as a student at the University of Tennessee, 1970–74; played on silver–medal–winning U.S. World University Games team, 1973; named head coach of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's women's basketball team, the Lady Vols, 1974; played on gold–medal–winning U.S. Pan American Games basketball team, 1975; played on silver–medal–winning U.S. women's Olympic basketball team, 1976; coached first Junior National basketball team to two gold medal wins; led U.S. national team to two gold medals and a silver medal, 1979; coached the World Championship team and helped it earn a silver medal, 1983; coached U.S. Olympic women's basketball team to first–ever gold medal, 1984; led Lady Vols to six NCAA titles, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998; became motivational speaker for government agencies and corporations, late 1990s; commentator on the ESPN sports network, 1999; consultant to the WNBA, 2000s; became first women's basketball coach to achieve 800 career victories, 2003.

Pat Summitt


WBCA/Converse Coach of the Year, 1983, 1995; Naismith College Coach of the Year, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1998; John Bunn Award, National Basketball Hall of Fame, 1990; SEC Coach of the Year, 1993, 1995, 1998; Columbus (OH) Touchdown Club Coach of the Year, 1994, 1997, 1998; Women's Basketball Coach of the Year, Victor Awards, 1994, 1998, 2000; National Association for Sport and Physical Educator's Hall of Fame, 1996; Casey Award, Kansas City Sports Commission, 1997; Governor Ned McWherter Award of Excellence, 1997; Sporting News Coach of the Year, 1998; Associated Press Coach of the Year, 1998; U.S. Basketball Writers Association Coach of the Year, 1998; Wooden Award, Utah Tip–off Club, 1998; IKON/WBCA Coach of the Year, 1998; Frontier/State Farm Coach of the Year, 1998; Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, inductee, 1999; Basketball Hall of Fame, inductee, 2000; Naismith Coach of the Century, 2000.


Pat Summitt is the most successful coach in the history of women's basketball. From her start as coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols in 1974 at the age of 22, to 2003, she led her team to 800 victories, a record for a female coach. She also served as coach of the U.S women's basketball team at the 1984 Olympic games, leading it to the team's first–ever Olympic gold medal. Under her leadership, the Lady Vols have won half a dozen NCAA championships, and became the first women's basketball team to win titles three years in a row. She was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.

Summitt graduated from Cheatham County High in Ashland, Tennessee, in 1970. She began her career in college sports as an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee at Martin. While a student, she played on the women's basketball team, the Lady Pacers. She graduated from college with a B.S. in physical education in 1974. During her junior year in college, in 1973, Summitt played on the silver–medal–winning U.S. World University Games basketball team in the Soviet Union. Returning from the World University Games for her senior year, Summitt began to prepare for tryouts for the 1976 U.S. Olympic team. However, a serious knee injury suffered in her fourth game of her final season as a player at Tennessee nearly shattered her plans. But the University of Tennessee provided her with the perfect place to recuperate and still stay in the game after her graduation—as head coach of the University's women's basketball team.

Summitt was just 22 years old when she named the head coach of the women's basketball program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. While serving as coach, she also worked toward her master's degree in physical education, taught physical education courses, and trained hard in basketball herself. By the end of the 1974–75 school year, Summitt's knee was in good enough shape for her to join the U.S. 1975 Pan American Games team. This team, with Summitt's help, won the gold medal at the games. Also in 1975, Summitt received her master's degree in physical education from the University of Tennessee. Summitt's hard work paid off when she was named to the 1976 U.S. Olympic basketball team, which won a silver medal in Montreal. Summitt also served as co–captain of the Olympic team.

The year following her Olympic win, Summitt served as the first coach of the U.S. Junior National basketball team. She led this team to two gold medal wins. Her next coaching assignment outside of Tennessee was as head of the United States national team in 1979. Playing in the William R. Jones Cup Games, the World Championships, and the Pan American Games, Summitt's team brought home two gold medals and a silver medal.

Summitt was forced to sit out the 1980 Olympics in Moscow because the United States boycotted the games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before. In 1983, she served as coach to the World Championship team, and helped it earn a silver medal. In 1984, Summitt returned to the Olympic Games, this time as a coach, not a player. Her team won the gold medal, marking the first–ever Olympic gold medal win for the United States women's basketball team. After clinching the gold–medal winning game, Summitt's players lifted her to their shoulders and carried her around the Los Angeles Forum, where the game was played.

Back at the University of Tennessee, Summitt coached her team to NCAA Championships in 1987 and 1989. In 1990, Summitt became the first woman to win the Basketball Hall of Fame's most highly prized award, the John Bunn Award. Summitt's team brought home no less than four NCAA titles in the 1990s—in 1991, 1996, 1997, and 1998. Under Summitt, Tennessee became the first women's basketball team to win three consecutive NCAA titles.

Over the years, Summitt proved herself again and again to be at the top of her game, and in 1997, she became the first women's college basketball coach to land on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Accolades piled up in the 1990s; she was three times named SEC Coach of the Year, in 1993, 1995, and 1998. Also in 1998, she was named Sporting News Coach of the Year and the Naismith Coach of the Year, and received numerous other honors.

Observers have attributed Summitt's unprecedented success in part to her extremely demanding coaching style. As she explained to Antonya English in the St. Petersburg Times, "I tell kids 'If you're lazy, stay as far away from me and our program as you can because you'll be miserable.' We work hard. We're not ashamed of it. We're proud of it." But Summitt has shied away from taking full credit for the successes of her team. "It bothers me," she told English, "that there has been so much focus on me.… It's about players; put the focus on the players."

In 1999, Summitt was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2000, she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, becoming the fourth women's basketball coach in the history of the game to receive that honor. Also in 2000, Summitt was named Naismith Coach of the Century. This was also the year the Summitt celebrated her 700th victory as coach of the Lady Vols.

As the 1990s drew to a close, Summitt built a successful career as a motivational speaker. Her clients have included the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Express, and Victoria's Secret. In the 2000s she also worked as a consultant to the WNBA, advising on player selection. In 1999, she worked as a commentator on the ESPN sports network, and in so doing, reaffirmed her commitment to coaching college basketball. "I like chemistry and the family environment," she said of college coaching to USA Today 's Dick Patrick, as opposed to the world of professional sports, which she found to be "cold and hard core as far as the business aspect."

Summitt passed yet another milestone in January of 2003 when she became the first women's basketball coach to pass the 800–win mark. Her record at that time stood at an astonishing 800 wins to only 161 losses in 29 seasons. By then she also had six national championships to her credit. Then 50 years old, Summitt told ecstatic fans after her 800th win that she had no plans to retire any time soon. Orange and white confetti rained down onto the court, and Summitt was presented with a cake, roses, and a ball played in the game. She later told reporters that her love of the game, and of coaching would keep her in the game indefinitely.

In addition to her coaching and speaking careers, Summitt has been active in various charitable endeavors, including the United Way, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Easter Seal Society, the American Heart Association, and many other organizations. Summitt has also coauthored books, including Reach for the Summitt, a motivational book, and Raise the Roof, about the Lady Vol's 1998 season, during which the team was undefeated.

More than winning basketball games, Summitt is inspired by helping young basketball players perform at their best. "My desire to go in and teach every day is no different right now than 10, 15, 20 years ago," she told USA Today 's Patrick. "I love practices. I love teaching."

Selected writings

Reach for the Summitt, Broadway Books, 1998.

Raise the Roof, Broadway Books, 1998.



St. Petersburg Times, March 9, 1999, p. 1C.

USA Today, December 3, 1999, p. 15C; December 20, 2002, p. 11C.


"Head Coach Pat Summitt," , (August 23, 2003).

"1980 Olympics," Fact Monster, (October 2, 2003).

"Tennessee's Summitt is No. 1 at 800," ,–01–14–de–paul–tennessee–summitt–800_x.htm (August 23, 2003).

Michael Belfiore

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