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April 19, 2012
Thursday afternoon, standing on the floor named after her, Pat Summitt did what seemed unimaginable a year ago. The iconic figure in college athletics and the face of the University of Tennessee is leaving the sidelines of the game she grew into a true national sport - and a game that gave Summitt's Vols eight national titles and 1,098 wins in 38 seasons.
Everyone knew that Summitt wouldn't coach forever. And on August 23, 2011, when Summitt announced that she had early onset of Alzheimer's-type dementia, everyone regardless of what they said publicly knew that Summitt's "forever" was going to be cut short.
No one knew just how short.
"Today was emotional for me," Vice chancellor of athletics Dave Hart said. "Because you realize today and yesterday that this was the last time you would see Pat as the head coach at the University of Tennessee. Even though you knew that day was coming, it strikes you pretty hard."
The emotions were present in the confines of Thompson-Boling Arena on the court named after Summitt. But there were also emotions of relief. Not relief that there was a clear direction for the Lady Vol program. But relief in that the woman who's devoted her life to the game and those who play it is going to be watched over and in the words of her successor, was going to be "OK."
That "ok" is with a role in the program as head coach emeritus where she will continue to be active in mentoring those in the program she built.
"I think it was huge. That was one of my main concerns in helping me with my decision to take this job was Pat going to be ok," head coach Holly Warlick said. "And what was she going to do. Pat may be stepping away from coaching, but she still has the ability to be active and function. Pat is fine. She is enjoying life and enjoying each day and I wanted her to stay active in the program. That was one of my main concerns was to use her to the best of our ability for the basketball team, the University and for her. She wants to stay busy. She has enjoyed spending time at home, but the still loves the opportunity to come to the office and come to practice everyday with these young ladies and remain active that's huge for her."
Hart said it was he and the University who approached Summitt about the title and role with the program after Summitt decided she should no longer coach.
"We took that idea to Pat and she really liked the idea because coaching has been her life and she thought that title was very fitting particularly in light in what she is going to continue to do. She immediately expressed her appreciation for that," Hart said.
Hart also admitted part of it was to make sure that Summitt was treated the right way and cared for as she fights her courageous battle.
"It was present in my mind because I think we have an obligation for that to be at the forefront in our thinking," Hart said. "Because she is battling such a difficult opponent she likes to stay involved and active so that was somewhat in play as we talked through what her duties would be in this new role."
Added former Lady Vol athletics director Joan Cronan, "The University of Tennessee as it has always done did not only do the right thing, but they did the proper thing. Pat Summitt wants to stay involved and goodness gracious why not. I'm glad she wants to do this job."
A job Summitt has an unmatched resume for and a job that's as important for Summitt as it is for the Lady Vols.