If Pat Summitt's coaching career with the Tennessee Lady Volunteers isn't over, it sure feels like it is.
|Photo by: Kelly Kline|
The 59-year-old Summitt, who announced last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, is likely to take her time evaluating things before ultimately deciding her future in coaching. Still, it was apparent following Monday's defeat that it had been a tough year for everyone associated with the Lady Vols basketball program.
ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, who served as one of Summitt's assistants for two seasons, said it was an extremely stressful year for the team.
"They had to carry on knowing Pat was battling the disease and the seniors had never been to a Final Four," Peck said. "That was double the weight on their shoulders. Every player who had played for Pat had been to a Final Four. That was important to her. That was part of their tradition. So for them not to get there was a big deal."
Though they were disappointed by the way their careers ended, the Lady Vols seniors still believe they laid the groundwork for future success at Tennessee. Success that they hope includes Summitt.
"This program is only going to get stronger," senior Glory Johnson said. "We'll just look to the underclassmen to keep playing hard for Pat, or whoever the coach is."
With that statement, it's obvious that the team's future is full of uncertainty as everyone awaits Summitt's next move.
Regardless, the decision of whether to return for a 39th season or step down solely belongs to Summitt, who's 1,098 career victories is the most by any coach in NCAA basketball history. She has two more years remaining on her contract, and Tennessee officials have said they will support her in whatever she chooses to do.
"Her love for the game, she's not lost that," assistant coach Holly Warlick said after the Baylor loss. "She's still competitive, I don't care what disease she has. She's going to go down swinging."
Personally, if at all possible, I hope Summitt is back next season. Not only are the Lady Vols a better team with her as their head coach, but women's college basketball as a whole is better when she's associated with it.
Good luck, Pat.