Pat Summitt steps aside as coach

Updated: April 19, 2012, 12:20 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt is stepping aside as Tennessee's women's basketball coach and taking the title of "head coach emeritus," with longtime assistant Holly Warlick being promoted to replace the sport's winningest coach.

Tennessee released a statement on Wednesday announcing the move.

The 59-year-old Summitt will report to the athletic director and help the women's program she guided to eight national titles. She said she supports Warlick, her assistant for 27 years and a three-time All-American who played for Summitt, as her replacement and wants to ensure the stability of the program.

The move comes less than a year after Summitt's diagnosis with early onset dementia-Alzheimer's type.

"I've loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role," Summitt said.

"I want to help ensure the stability of the program going forward. I would like to emphasize that I fully intend to continue working as head coach emeritus, mentoring and teaching life skills to our players, and I will continue my active role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer's through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund."

Tennessee has scheduled a news conference Thursday afternoon in Knoxville with Summitt and Warlick.

Tennessee vice chancellor and athletic director Dave Hart called Summitt "an inspiration to everyone."

"It is extremely difficult to adequately express what Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, the sport of basketball, and the growth of women's athletics nationally," Hart said. "She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting. Just like there will never be another John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt."

In a statement, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma praised Summitt, with whom he often had a testy relationship as the two coaches battled for recruits and wins in women's college basketball's biggest rivalry.

"Pat's vision for the game of women's basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did," Auriemma said. "In her new role, I'm sure she will continue to make significant impacts to the University of Tennessee and to the game of women's basketball as a whole.

[+] EnlargePat Summitt
AP Photo/Nati HarnikPat Summitt, seen in her last game as the Lady Vols coach -- a loss to Baylor in the NCAA regional final -- leaves the bench with 1,098 victories and eight national championships.

"I am thrilled for [Warlick] as this opportunity is well-deserved and Pat will be a huge asset to her moving forward."

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer also credited Summitt for building the women's game throughout her career.

"Words cannot adequately describe the extraordinary career that Pat Summitt has had in the world of basketball," VanDerveer said. "She is a model of class and courage, and I don't think that enough can be said for just how much Pat has accomplished in building and elevating women's basketball to its current heights. Pat is Tennessee Basketball."

Duke men's coach Mike Krzyzewski called Summitt "a pioneer in basketball."

"Her amazing career accomplishments are among an elite group of leaders. Very few people leave a lasting legacy in their chosen professions and coach Summitt has done just that at the University of Tennessee and in women's basketball," Krzyzewski said in a statement. "She raised the level of commitment, pride and notoriety of her sport. I am honored to call her a friend."

Warlick, who came to Tennessee as a scholarship track athlete, walked on to the basketball team as a point guard and led the Lady Vols to the AIAW Final Four three times. She is the first new women's head coach at Tennessee since Summitt succeeded Margaret Hutson in 1974.

"I'm very thankful for all Pat Summitt has done to prepare me for this opportunity," Warlick said. "She is my coach, mentor, and great friend, and I am honored with the opportunity to continue and add to the great tradition of this program."

Hart said Warlick had earned and deserved the opportunity to take over the program from Summitt, saying she grew tremendously as a coach during the just-completed season.

"Under unique circumstances, the job she did away from the glare of the lights and crowds was as impressive as the job she did during game action, " Hart said. "Her mentor will be available for insight and advice, but this is Holly's team now."

Summitt revealed her diagnosis on Aug. 23, 2011, after a few months of trying to come to terms with dementia, which had caused her problems with memory loss both on and off the court during the previous season. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that destroys cognitive abilities over time.

With the blessing of university chancellor Jimmy Cheek, the Hall of Fame coach said she planned to continue coaching as long as possible. She also wanted to show the world that it was still possible to function, even in the face of dementia and Alzheimer's. She had been going about business as usual.

But with a need to devote more attention to managing her health, Summitt handed over more duties to her longtime assistants. This season, Warlick, as associate head coach, took the lead during games and handled postgame interviews, while the entire staff did the bulk of the recruiting and management of practices.

Even with Warlick and assistant coaches Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood carrying a larger load, Summitt continued to leave her mark through guidance and motivation with her trademark icy stare, even if she did wear the look more infrequently.

Summitt's diagnosis came during one of the Lady Vols' most disappointing stretches -- by Summitt's lofty standards, anyway. Tennessee hasn't won a national championship since 2008 and hasn't even reached the Final Four, which matches the longest such drought in program history.

Tennessee's five seniors were a part of the team that lost in the first round of the 2009 NCAA tournament, the only time in school history the Lady Vols had bowed out on the first weekend.

Those seniors promised they would win a ninth national championship this season not just to change their legacy and to honor Summitt, but as center Vicki Baugh put it, "We're playing for everyone who has Alzheimer's."

They just couldn't get back to the Final Four, and the group of seniors wound up the first Lady Vols to miss the Final Four. They lost to eventual champion Baylor and Brittney Griner, a player Summitt couldn't convince to come to Knoxville, in the regional final.

At the women's Final Four in Denver earlier this month, Summitt received a standing ovation at halftime of the Baylor-Stanford national semifinal during a ceremony honoring current and former coaches of the U.S. women's Olympic team. Summitt led the 1984 team to a gold medal in Los Angeles.

Earlier that day, she had talked with and hugged Auriemma, for years her fiercest coaching and recruiting rival.

Auriemma said they talked about Summitt's foundation that supports Alzheimer's research and education, and the health of the Tennessee coach.

"She pretty much expressed that she's doing great and she feels good, that she's under great care, that she's being taken care of by the best people," Auriemma said at the time. "It was only a couple minutes, but I had told her that I'm sure that once the NCAA tournament is over, we'll get a chance to talk a little bit more."

Auriemma Pat's vision for the game of women's basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did. In her new role, I'm sure she will continue to make significant impacts to the University of Tennessee and to the game of women's basketball as a whole.

-- UConn coach Geno Auriemma

It's unlikely anyone will come close to matching Summitt's accomplishments in women's basketball, which has seen more parity in the past decade.

Summitt's career ends with a 1,098-207 record, 16 regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and 16 SEC tournament titles.

During her time, Tennessee never failed to reach the NCAA tournament, never received a seed lower than No. 5 and reached 18 Final Fours.

Her impact reaches beyond wins and losses. Every Lady Vols player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee has graduated, and 74 former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball.

On the same day Summitt stepped aside, her son, Tyler Summitt, confirmed he has accepted a full-time assistant coaching position with the Marquette women's basketball team. Tyler played for the men's basketball team at Tennessee the past two seasons as a walk-on.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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