On the same day as the iconic Pat Summitt gracefully exited the coaching profession, her only son enthusiastically entered it.
Pat and Tyler Summitt (Getty Images)Tyler Summitt called Marquette women's coach Terri Mitchell hours before his mother announced her retirement on Wednesday to accept an offer to become an assistant coach on her staff. Once the 21-year-old Tennessee senior graduates next month, he'll trade the familiarity of Knoxville for the opportunity to further his quest to follow in his mother's footsteps and become a successful college head coach.
"I'm very excited," the younger Summitt said. "It's a little weird with mom stepping aside the same day I'm stepping into the game, but she's very happy for me. She always told me I was going to have to go away to prove myself. Well, now was the right time."
It's a testament to his mother's strength that Tyler feels comfortable choosing now to leave Knoxville for the first time. He said he would have stayed if her health was deteriorating as a result of her battle with early-onset dementia, but she remains strong, independent and unselfish enough to encourage him to pursue his dreams.
While it would be easy to assume the son of a coaching legend would need his mom's help to land a full-fledged assistant's gig at a Big East school before graduating college, in Tyler's case that's not true.
Neither Pat Summitt nor her staff is any more than an acquaintance of Mitchell or anybody at Marquette. Tyler landed the job by looking up Mitchell's office number on Marquette's website, cold-calling her about the job last week and then sufficiently wowing her in his face-to-face interview Sunday and Monday that he had a verbal offer before he even left Milwaukee.
"I'm proud that I really went about this process just like anybody else would," Tyler said. "That's something coach Mitchell told me. She said, 'This is not a favor to your mom. You're coming up here for you.'"
The only explanation for Mitchell's confidence that Tyler can coach players who in some cases will be his age or older next season is that the younger Summitt has basketball acumen and experience beyond his years.
He has been part of the Tennessee program since he was in diapers, whether it was flying to a game in his mom's lap before he was a month old, sitting on the end of the bench as a toddler or riding the back of the bus with the players while in grade school. By high school, he'd attend his mom's early morning workouts before school, practice with his team in the afternoons and then race across town to watch as much of the Vols' practice as he could.
To prepare himself further for coaching upon enrolling at Tennessee, Tyler spent the 2009-10 season under his mom as a student assistant and the following two years as a walk-on playing for Bruce Pearl and then Cuonzo Martin. In his spare time, he also worked camps and coached several Knoxville-area AAU teams, including the talent-laden Tennessee Fury 17U Girls.
"I've always felt I've had a leg up because I grew up around basketball," Tyler said. "When you grow up a coach's kid, there's something unique about it and I don't think it's just with coaching. I think it's leadership as a whole because you see the impact on the players. You're in the staff meetings seeing what the staff is doing, but you also see the effects. You get both sides."
Tyler inherited his mom's steely blue eyes and self-assured demeanor, yet he doesn't think his coaching style will mirror hers. Instead, he believes he'll take cues from Martin and Pearl in addition to his mom after preparing meticulous notes during the seasons he spent with each of them.
Pat Summitt was a head coach by age 22, won eight championships and never missed an NCAA tournament. That's going to be hard for her son to duplicate, but his approach will sound familiar.
"The one thing I really took from my mom was learning to put others before yourself, to treat people the right way and to always work hard," Tyler said. "There are plenty of coaches' kids who want to coach or follow in their parents' footsteps, but my goal is to outwork each and every one of them."