Earlier this week, the sports world lost a monumental figure in former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt.
Summitt claims the most victories (1,098) out of any Division I head coach – male or female – of all-time. Summitt also has eight national titles on her resume.
In addition to all of the winning, the true thing Summitt will be remembered for is what she did for the game of women’s basketball.
“Anyone who plays, coaches, is a fan of and who even covers women’s basketball should take a step back and thank coach Summitt,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said on 1460 KXnO’s Sports Fanatics program Tuesday evening.
Summitt helped make sure that the women’s college basketball players earned full-ride scholarships, which is the biggest contributions she will be remembered for.
When Summitt started at Tennessee in 1972, the first crowd she coached in front of consisted of 54 people. After she left Tennessee in 2012, Summitt and the Lady Vols were consistently selling out a 16,000-seat arena.
“It is amazing. She just decided, if you are going to win, you will need great players,” Fennelly said. “Tennessee was one of the first to fully fund women’s basketball. She built women’s basketball when no one wanted to put in their complete time to build it.”
Summitt and her Lady Vols team were truly the first women’s team that defined success. Coaches like Fennelly and UConn’s Geno Auriemma wanted to emulate the success that Summitt brought the Tennessee program.
While she did so much for college women’s basketball, according to Fennelly, without Summitt there would be no WNBA.
In Fennelly’s 20-plus seasons as the headman at Iowa State, he never had the opportunity to face Summitt and her Lady Vols. They would always be close to facing one another in the NCAA Tournament, but either Iowa State or Tennessee would be eliminated before that could happen. But despite never facing Fennelly, that didn’t stop Summitt from calling him to congratulate him on his 500th career win as the Cyclones’ head coach.
“That was cool,” Fennelly said. “But after we were done talking, I hung up the phone and thought, ‘Yes, that’s a few games to win but she still has 450 more wins at that point.’ She had a good feel for where the places where women’s basketball was growing. I am very gracious for what she did.”