A Champion Coach with Faith, Courage and Commitment

Pat Summitt was always there for me. Now it was my turn.

By Mickie DeMoss, Knoxville, Tennessee

As appeared in

Following Tuesday's announcement of Pat Summitt's retirement from her position as head coach of the University of Tennessee's Lady Volunteers basketball team, we offer the following tribute, which will appear next month in Guideposts magazine, from one of Summitt's longtime assistant coaches, Mickie DeMoss:

The phone call came out of the blue one spring day in 2010. I wasn’t surprised to hear from Pat Summitt, the legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach and my mentor.

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I’d been one of her assistants for 18 years. We’d worked together until 2003, coaching the Lady Volunteers to six NCAA titles, and we were still good friends. But I was surprised to hear Pat say, “I want you to come back to Tennessee.”

Why now? I’d been away for seven years. When I’d left to run the University of Kentucky women’s basketball program, no one had been more thrilled for me than Pat. And she knew I was happy in my current job as an assistant coach at Texas.

“Come on, Mickie,” Pat said. “Let’s finish out our careers together.”

I couldn’t put my finger on why, but there was something beyond the usual insistence in her voice. It was like having my sister say, “Come home. I need you.”

So I didn’t hesitate. But in the back of my mind I thought, When had Pat ever needed help? She was the toughest, strongest, most capable person I knew. She was the one I leaned on when I went through the hardest struggle in my life—my mother’s long struggle with dementia.

Pat came with me on visits home to Mom in Louisiana. She gave the eulogy at Mom’s memorial service. Pat did so much for me that I sometimes wondered, Lord, how can I repay her? Please don’t ever let me let her down.

The day I arrived back in Knoxville, I drove straight to Pat’s. She said I could stay with her till I found my own place. True to form, she filled me in on the team right away. But she seemed oddly distracted and after 10 minutes, she stood abruptly and left the room.

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She probably had a million things going on, too much even for a champion multitasker like her to keep up with. Maybe that was why she asked me to come back.

One night not long after that, Michelle Marciniak, a star point guard for the Lady Vols in the mid-1990s, called and said she’d be in Knoxville the next day. Could she stay at Pat’s? “Sure,” I heard Pat say. “It’ll be great to see you.”

The next morning at breakfast I mentioned I was looking forward to catching up with Michelle. “She’s coming today?” Pat said. “I didn’t know that.”

“She called last night, around ten,” I reminded her.

“I remember now,” Pat said. But I could tell by her expression she didn’t.

Pat was notorious for being so focused on her work that she’d forget where she put her keys or parked the car. All of us assistants teased her about it. But forget even the smallest detail about one of her players? That wasn’t the Pat I knew.

I felt a flicker of unease. This was how things had started with my mom, these little lapses. Pat’s just overworked, I told myself. Mom was in her late seventies when she showed symptoms of dementia. Pat was only 57. Way too young for Alzheimer’s.

When we first met, back in the early 1980s, Pat was already like Wonder Woman. She had this aura about her. People were drawn to her, both players and coaches.

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She taught us to believe not just in her and in the team and the program she’d built from scratch at Tennessee but also in ourselves, which was probably the even bigger challenge.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t tough on us. If you follow women’s college basketball at all, you’ve seen the stare. That laser-like look that could burn holes in the hardwood. Its message was clear: I expect more from you. A heck of a lot more!

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Your Comments (6)

My family has known Coach Summitt for over 30 years. Our daughter went to summer camp @ UT for as many years as she was eligible, Holley Warlick was her student coach and during her senior year in 1983, worked at the BB camp. They became great friends which has lasted all these years not only for our daughter but for My wife and I as well. our daughter did whatever she was asked to do as a student assistant while she was working on her Ph.D course work even going to tournaments with the team with Pat setting up one room as a class room for the players to come to get help for their assignments. One funny occassion was Pat was telling the players our daughter would be helping them and mentioned some needed spanish language help. At the point Holley said coach she can't teach Spanish with Coach Summitt saying yes she can she can do anything. We had some good years following the lady Vols, even living in Knoxville part time out at Turkey Creek. One more humorous story, our daughter was on her SeaDoo going out Turkey Creek and at the entrance of the Turkey Creek and the TN River she could see these two girls talking to fisherman as she got closer she recognized it was two of the lady Vols on one seadoo, Shalon pillow and Michele Snow. They were with the team at Pat's home and had gone out on the TN and gotten lost. During the discussion Pat's SeaDoo ran out of gas. Our daughter jumped in the river and up on their seadoo to determine if the extra tank had any gas. It did but not a lot. She knew how to get to Pat's place by water and told them to follow her. At the entrance before going under the bridge on the Alcoa Highway to Pat's place There was Pat and and the little point guard, April McDivitt with Pat looking at the two girls with that patented stare. Our daughter told Coach Summitt the story and that they were about out of gasoline. Pat told them they would go around the corner to get gasoline and asked our daughter if she had any money. She responded she always kept $20 on the seadoo for emergencies. Pat said that is not enough. But they continued to the river service station in which a high school student was operating at the time. Pat told him who she was and to fill up both Seadoos and she would be by to settle up with the owner the next day. He was not sure he should do this but Pat persuaded hinm to do so. To reflect on Pat's competiveness as they were leaving the dock she looked at our Daughter and said let's race but Pat was already in the racing mode but our daughter caught up and passed them heading back down to Turkey Creek looking back she saw Pat shaking her fist with April about to fall of the seadoo from laughing.
The real story, what has happened to Coach Summitt is tragic for the entire TN, SEC and the nation's total sports families.
Our thoughts are with Coach Summitt, a person we dearly love and has done much for our family.

Thank you for this wonderful article about a strong and courageous woman. Thank you for increasing awareness of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease through printing this article. Many people are not aware that between 5-10% of all Alzheimer's cases are Younger Onset, usually in their 40's and 50's. To many people think that this is mainly an "old peoples" disease. It is very familiar to me, since my husband was diagnosed at age 53 and passed away at age 59. Pat - you are in my thoughts and prayers.

For those caring for a loved one with AD, I pray for patience for you. I cared for my husband at home right up to his death, with a caregiver that came in while I was at work. Otherwise, I cared for him, with help from our kids and church family. God gave me the gift of patience through caring for him. He also blessed me through my husband knowing me to the end. He blessed me that our last words to each other were "I love you", even when I did not know those would be the last words I would hear from him, or him me. For me, it was a blessing to be able to care for my husband, and not miss all the little moments of him showing me he still loved me dearly, and I could show him through my loving care, that I also still loved him dearly. I hope all of you caring for loved ones with AD can feel this blessing too.

Love you Pat in the Lord.
Had to give up my piano/voice studio due to lapses both in
Instruction and in courage.
Hang In There Girl,
God NEVER forgets!
Nancy

Pat, You are in the Lords hands, and you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our prayers are with you, as we lift you up before The Throne Of Grace. That's where we leave you my friend, and there is know better place to be.Trust in The Lord Pat, He is your everything. Bless you Pat.

This article is so timely for me. My dad is struggling with Alzheimers right now. I have given up job and pretty much my life for the past year and a half to help out my mom with my dad's care. My mom is not well either and the stress of caregiving for both parents is about to kill me. Thank you for sharing this article at this time. It was a reminder of how God works through other people to share his grace. I love sports and have been interested in the Pat Summit story. This really helped me, personally, and touched me spiritually. Thank you.

I am a huge fan of vols sports program, I started with the women's basketball and Pat Summitt, I am in RI and we don't get many TN sports on tv, now tho, I love it as some games are online.
I am 73 and a retired State employee, for the past 3 winters I have driven the 959 miles
to watch the Lady Vols play Basketball, I leave the day after Christmas and stay until the first week of April. The first year I knew no one, no family or friends..The first time I walked into TBA I was overwhelmed, I went to my seat and immediately was welcomed by the season ticket holders that I sat by, I have met some life long friends who fills my stay with their kindness......
When the Vols are done playing in Knoxville, I go to wherever the SEC tournament is.
I go to the baseball and softball games to fill up the rest of my stay in TN.
I was watching the news here in RI when I saw Pats name scroll across with the news of her illness, I cried...
I will return to Knoxville in Dec. I love Pat Summitt, I also love the LV's....
Dot Bogoslawski
North Kingstown RI
ladyvols38@yahoo.com