“You don’t take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby.  You better get you some race horses.” – Head Coach Pat Summitt’s dad after her first loss

On Thursday, July 14th at 7:00 PM EST in Knoxville, TN at the Thompson Boling Arena, the public is invited to attend a memorial service for the greatest collegiate coach of all-time, the beloved head basketball coach of the University of Tennesse Lady Volunteers, Pat Summit.  Coach Summitt recently passed away at 64 years of age after several years battling early-onset dementia from Alzheimer’s.

As we reflect on her life and career, allow me to make the case for Head Coach Pat Summitt being the greatest collegiate coach of any sport in history.

First, The Resume

  • 8 NCAA Championships
  • 1984 Olympic gold medalist
  • 1,098 – 208 record.  An .841 winning percentage.
  • First coach in college basketball to accumulate 1,000 wins
  • 7-time National Coach of the Year
  • 16 SEC Championships
  • Never had a losing season in 38 years as a coach
  • In fact, she averaged 29 wins per year for 38 years
  • 18 of her assistant coaches became head coaches
  • 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom winner

Second, Her Leadership Skills

I would like to continue my argument by learning directly from Coach Summitt herself.  In the recent EntreLeadership July Podcast #154, host Ken Coleman played a 6-minute clip from a previous interview he conducted with the legendary coach for Comcast Sports Southeast.

The following are 9 Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Apex Leader Head Coach Pat Summitt:

  1. Apex Leaders Remember Losses More Than Wins – “I remember the first loss probably more than the first win.”
  2. Apex Leaders Recruit Talented People – “You don’t take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby.  You better get you some race horses.” – Coach Summitt’s dad after her first loss
  3. Apex Leaders Know The Value Of Having A Great Team Around You – “You win in life with people.  It’s not about me.  I’ve never scored a basket for the University of Tennessee…It’s all about the people you surround yourself with and what they bring to the court, to the game, and to understanding it is a team concept and they have to do it together.”
  4. Apex Leaders Prepare Others For Success Today And Tomorrow – “When they leave here they leave with a college degree.  Hopefully, they leave here with a national championship.  But the most important part of that is they leave here as confident young women who are ready to go out into the world and be secure in who they are and move forward and be successful.”
  5. Apex Leaders Know How To Win Championships – “Offense sells tickets.  Defense wins games.  Rebounding wins championships.”
  6. Apex Leaders Are Excellent Communicators – “You might have an off-shooting night.  But you should never have a bad night on defense and rebounding.  You should never have a bad night or off-night on lack of communication.  We have to be in this together.”
  7. Apex Leaders Are Others-Focused – “It is not about the individual.  We are winning for our team.  We are winning for our university and for the greatest fans in women’s basketball.”
  8. Apex Leaders Overcome Adversity – “They have a preparation that allows them to get through adversity.  To be able to understand that it doesn’t last forever and you have to figure out a way to be successful.”
  9. Apex Leaders Allow You To Become Your Absolute Best – When asked what one piece advice she would give young people, Coach Summitt said, “Look in the mirror and see yourself and challenge yourself to be the very best and to always do the right thing.  Never compromise your principles.  Never lower your standards.  Whatever it is you desire to do in life have the courage and the commitment to do it and do it to your absolute best.  And always, always know, you have to believe it to do it.”

Third, Unlike Any Other Coach, She Helped Launch The Sport Of Women’s College Basketball

Unlike Bear Bryant, John Wooden, and Nick Saban, Coach Summitt was there at the sport’s infancy.  The sport was largely built on her drive and hard work.  Women’s college basketball would look largely different without the efforts of Pat Summitt.  Let me explain.

Pat Summitt was named head coach of the Lady Vols in 1974 as a 22-year old.  Women’s college basketball was not yet even recognized as a Division I sport.  Coach Summitt had to purchase the team’s uniforms through doughnut sales and then washed those uniforms herself.

Summitt once told Time magazine in a February 2009 interview, “I had to drive the van when I first started coaching.  One time, for a road game, we actually slept in the other team’s gym the night before.  We had mats, we had our little sleeping bags.”

No other person in the pantheon of great college head coaches ever had to do such tasks as a head coach.  This is because the sport existed prior to their arrival.  Once again, there was no D-1 Women’s Basketball prior to her arrival.

Longtime rival UConn head coach Geno Auriemma summed it up by telling the USA Today in its July 8th edition, “One would be hard-pressed to name a figure who had a more indelible impact on her profession than Pat Summitt.  Pat set the standard for which programs like ours dreamed of achieving, both on and off the court.  Our sport reached new heights thanks to her success.”

Fourth, The Impact On Her Players

In an era when many people talk about the importance of student-athletes, a staggering 100% of Coach Summitt’s players graduated.  This was the expectation for everyone who ever entered the program.

Outkick The Coverage’s Clay Travis told Colin Cowherd on his June 28th simulcast, “She is Coach K (Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski) with a sense of humor…Pat Summitt was beloved by her players.”

He added, “Her players feared making mistakes for her but also feared doing it because they loved her so much.”

Finally, Her Impact On High School Girls Sports

Travis also pointed out, “Her ability to make people care about a sport they might not otherwise care about unbelievable in the state…It percolated throughout the entire region.  You cared about girls high school basketball more.  Girls (growing up in Tennessee) wanted to go play for the Lady Vols.”

I started this post by quoting Pat Summitt’s father when he said, “You don’t take donkeys to the Kentucky Derby.  You better get you some race horses.”  In essence, Coach Summitt ultimately wound up taking an entire sport to the Kentucky Derby.  Because of this, she is the greatest collegiate coach of any sport in history.  She will be dearly missed.

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