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Pat Summitt, legendary former basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, died Tuesday morning of complications from Alzheimer's disease. Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I basketball history, was 64.
Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type in 2011, and stepped down from her role as head coach at the University of Tennessee a year later. From 1974 to 2012, Summitt led the Lady Vols to a 1,098-208 record with eight national titles.
Her remarkable career began when she took the head coaching reins at Tennessee at just 22 years old. Two years later, as a player she was named an assistant captain for the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, and in 1984 took over head coaching duties. Under her guidance, the American women went undefeated and won their first-ever gold medal.
Three years later, Summitt's Lady Vols won the first of their eight national championships. Tennessee also won 16 SEC regular season championships and 16 SEC tournament championships under Summitt, the most recent coming in her final season. Summitt was an eight-time SEC Coach of the Year and a seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year, two of the many awards lavished on her throughout her 38-year career. She was also honored with the Naismith Award for Coach of the 20th Century and the 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award a civilian can win in the United States.
Summitt's record and legacy stand among the very best in American sports history, and she belongs in the company of coaching giants such as Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant. Summitt began coaching at a time before women's basketball was an officially sanctioned NCAA sport and just two years after the passage of Title IX, which dramatically increased women's participation in intercollegiate athletics. Summitt became one of the most visible and effective faces of women's college sports for the entirety of her career. The UT program under Summitt produced some of the most notable players in women's basketball history, including Tamika Catchings, Chamique Holdsclaw and Candace Parker, all Naismith College Players of the Year.
Any player, opponent, referee, or administrator who took Summitt any less seriously because of her gender received a swift comeuppance. Summitt was one of the most fiery coaches in sports history, intense and unforgiving, always in support of her team. Summitt was offered the job of coaching Tennessee's men at least twice, but declined both times. A Sports Illustrated article in 1998 detailed Summitt's exacting mantras: she expected each player to sit in the first three rows of every one of their classes, with zero unexcused absences. She'd halt practices to ask players a simple, important question: "What have you done for your team today?"
After being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Summitt reduced her coaching duties and eventually assumed the role of head coach emeritus, visiting team practices and serving as a visible presence on the sidelines during games. In her final years, Summitt used her own illness as a means of bringing awareness and research to bear against Alzheimer's. She launched the Pat Summitt Foundation in November 2011, and the Pat Summitt Alzheimer's Clinic is slated to open at the University of Tennessee later this year.
In recent days, Summitt's health had taken a sharp turn for the worse. News that her family had gathered by her side brought an outpouring of sympathy from former players, rival coaches, and notable figures across the sports landscape.