1098 wins. 8 NCAA Championships. 16 SEC Championships.
How do you measure former Tennessee Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt’s legacy?
For LSU Lady Tigers coaches Nikki Fargas, Tasha Butts and Mickie DeMoss, all former Lady Vols players or coaches, Pat Summitt’s legacy is not about wins. It is about the people she touched and the memories they share.
“I remember the good times we had together,” DeMoss said. “I remember the national championships, and all that, but I remember the relationship. Because that is what is lasting. All the times she stepped to the plate for me, when I was having trouble. I remember the good times like the year we went undefeated. She made us feel invested. We were a family.“
At Tennessee, Summitt became the winningest coach in the history of collegiate basketball, taking Tennessee women’s basketball, and the rest of the SEC, to the summit of women’s basketball.
Summitt’s success was often at the expense of LSU, who is just 15-48 all-time against Tennessee after the 70-59 win on Sunday.
“It is something you cannot always put into words what she meant,” Fargas said. “I just try to live the best way I can and hope she is looking down proud on us. We are proud to say we are a part of it.”
Tennessee delivered heartbreak to the Lady Tigers many times, including in the 2004 and 2008 Final Fours as the Lady Vols scored game winning baskets in the closing seconds of each.
Butts, a player on the 2004 team, remembers that game fondly.
“I still remember that we beat them pretty handedly at home,” she said. “That was our senior night; emotions were running pretty heavily. Once we worked our way through the tournament and found out we were playing LSU, we were like, okay. Here we go again. I remember Pat telling us after the game, 'Y’all are going to give me a heart attack.'”
The Tennessee ties have not weakened the intensity on the court between the two, nor has the friendship between current Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick and the staff.
“I think when I first got into the game as a head coach, I remember playing Tennessee at UCLA, and I definitely wanted to beat them,” Fargas said. “And when I first got here, I definitely wanted to beat them. I am still here, and I definitely want to beat them. You want to beat everyone. After the game, I will hug Holly. I am still a fan of hers.”
“I definitely hate losing to them and love winning against them more,” Butts added. “As coaches sitting on the sideline, I know where I graduated from, but that does not matter because I want to win.”
For Fargas, Summitt was more than a mentor or friend, she was family.
Fargas played for Tennessee from 1990-1994 and was part of the 1991 national championship team. She later coached the Lady Vols as a graduate assistant and later as an assistant from 2002-2008.
The diagnosis and passing of coach Summitt from Alzheimer’s caught Fargas off guard.
“Never would I have thought that would happen to her,” Fargas said. “I know that is something a lot of families have said when someone is diagnosed with early onset. We have got to bring awareness, and money, to find a cure for it.”
DeMoss, who was Summitt’s assistant from 1985-2003 and 2010-2012, noticed a change in the second time around working under Summitt.
“I just noticed when I came back that something was not quite right,” she said. “Pat had removed herself a lot from the ‘x’s and ‘o’s and practice planning and game preparation. She did some, but it was nothing like what she used to do. We convinced her to go to the Mayo Clinic.”
In the 2011-12 season, Summitt announced her diagnosis and that she would retire. DeMoss was there to support her friend in her final season.
DeMoss had returned to Tennessee after spending a few years away from the program as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.
It was at Kentucky where DeMoss did the unthinkable. She led the Wildcats to their first ever win over the Lady Vols in a 66-63 victory in 2006.
“I was shocked,” she said. “That was a year they had Candace Parker. We had presented Pat with a big Maker’s Mark case before the game. After, she said she was going to open it on the way home.”
Summitt dedicated the remainder of her life to fighting Alzhemer’s. She opened the Pat Summitt Clinic, to help people with Alzheimer’s, and the Pat Summitt Foundation, to raise awareness and find a cure.
“I thought it was huge how she announced it,” DeMoss said. “She continued to stand for finding a cure. That just says a lot about who she is. She had a purpose. I think it is fitting that she gets to keep on her efforts in fighting Alzheimer’s. Hopefully, something will come out of it. If we can find something, it will all be worth it, and I really believe it will happen.”
“That woman was so strong,” Butts said. “She truly lived by her quote, ‘Left foot. Right foot. Breathe.’ Pat was not going to let anything get the best of her. She understood that being a good leader was about serving others.”
Summitt’s final season ended the same as many of her previous 38 seasons, with an SEC championship. LSU, in Fargas and Butts’ first season, was on the losing side of the championship.
Before the 2012 SEC championship game, LSU’s Butts and Fargas and Tennessee’s Warlick, Summitt, and DeMoss met for a group hug to celebrate the game between friends.
“It was always special to be on the sidelines going up against my coach,” Butts said. “It is family. We truly had a sisterhood. So, we looked at each other as family – nothing less.”
That aspect of sisterhood that Summitt built into her program was important to DeMoss. Summitt bought DeMoss her first Christmas tree while DeMoss was an assistant for her.
“I grew up in North Louisiana and my mother was not big on Christmas, so we never had a tree growing up.” said DeMoss. “So when I got to Tennessee, I told her I never put up a tree. So she told me, ‘We are going to get you a tree,’ and I have put up one ever since.”
Each of LSU’s coaches saw Summitt in the final months of her life before she passed on June 28, 2016.
Butts says she vividly remembered her last visit with her coach, friend and mentor. She was on a trip to Nashville as LSU was playing Vanderbilt and made time to visit Summitt.
Summitt, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, did not at first remember Butts, so they just talked about pictures of Butts’ dog and nephew since Summitt loved pictures of children and dogs.
As Butts left, Summitt managed to recall her former player in her final words to Butts.
“I love you.”