Legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt died Tuesday after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s. She was 64.
In the hours after her death, the reactions, memories and sympathies of former and current players and coaches came fast and furious – and for good reason. Summitt, with 1,098 wins, eight national titles and 18 Final Fours, was a great coach sure, but she was also a pioneer, leader and advocate for women.
“She challenged me,” former Tennessee player and assistant and current LSU assistant Tasha Butts said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “That woman challenged me. Sometimes she could be stubborn, but so could I. She put me in situations that made me uncomfortable. The one thing she always told me was in order to be comfortable, in order to be great, you’ve got to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. And she made sure that whether I was not comfortable with playing a certain position, not comfortable with speaking up and becoming a leader for our team, she put me in those situations – and those situations not only helped me on the court, but they helped me off the court in learning how to be a leader.”
Butts served as a graduate assistant under Summitt and mentored young women using the same teachings Summitt taught her.
“She taught us about family,” Butts said. “She taught us about how to lean on one another, that loyalty. That is something I will continue to teach our kids. Respect yourself and others. That goes a long way. Handle failure as you handle success. Those are just a few things she taught us and put is in those situations. But for us, the Lady Vols, that was not a list of phrases. That was a way of life.”
Butts, 34, played for Summitt from 2000-04 and has plenty of (mostly) fond memories of the experience.
“Oh, it was intense,” Butts said. “I was fortunate and unfortunate enough to get that stare a lot. But the one thing I would say about her, Pat was what I call a versatile coach. She knew who could handle it and who couldn’t handle it. She knew how to coach each and every one of her players, and I think the misconception that a lot of people get is that as a coach you have to coach each player the exact same way. Well, that’s not true because each player has a different personality. Pat, in the past, admitted she had to change over time. She knew who she could get into, who could get that stare, who could get yelled at, but who also needed to have their hand held and talked to them.
“That’s the thing that a lot of people didn’t see,” Butts continued. “She was this fiery coach with those piercing blue eyes, but in that huddle sometimes, if we needed to be protected, she was that one. But in those huddles, it was about business. Whether she yelled at us or she talked to us with a calm voice, you knew once we stepped across those lines that it was about business. She gave us that confidence, and we were an extension of her. We had the swagger of our head coach. We felt like anytime we stepped on that court we were already 10 points better. That’s what she gave us.”
Butts, who played in the WNBA, has served as an assistant coach at several schools, and there’s no denying that Summitt shaped her life on and off the court.
“I’ve taken so many things (from her),” Butts said, “but when she said she had to kind of grow with the game, she had to change with the players, that’s the one thing I pride myself in – making sure that I’m a versatile coach (and getting the best out of my players) and not being so stubborn that (you think it’s) all about you. Always thinking about people, always thinking about the next person. If (there’s) one thing that I learned from her, (it’s that) you win in life with people, which is why you have thousands and thousands and millions of people who know who Pat Summitt is even if they don’t watch women’s basketball, even if they’re not a sports fan. They understand who she is what she’s meant not only to basketball, but to this world. She’s an icon – not because of the number of games and championship she won, but also because she won with people.”