Alzheimer's disease may be depriving college basketball of one of the best coaches in the history of the game, but the illness doesn't define the legacy of Pat Summitt.
The Tennessee women's basketball coach told her players on Wednesday afternoon that she will step aside and assume a role as a team adviser, making room for longtime assistant Holly Warlick. The university issued a public press release announcing the news shortly thereafter, and a news conference will follow on Thursday.
Going forward, Summitt's technical role with the team will be "head coach emeritus," which will allow her to do as much mentoring as she can given her health concerns. The 59-year-old announced her early-onset Alzheimer's diagnosis eight months ago, but still stayed on as the official coach for the 2011-12 season.
Women's or men's basketball aside, Summitt has solidified herself as one of the most prolific coaches the game as ever seen. Her 1,098 wins are more than anyone—man or woman—has achieved, and she garnered eight championships during her 38-season tenure.
The situation is one that is both somber and complicated. Given the nature of her disease, Summitt has no way of knowing when it will begin to truly take its toll, and as a result, she is doing the best she can for her team at the moment: handing over the reins with the knowledge that someone very capable will be taking over, even if her role will be diminished.
Per NCAA regulations, Summitt will be permitted to watch practice, help to formulate game plans and mentor the players, but she will not be allowed to coach. That means no more sitting on the bench, no more presiding over a program that has been synonymous with her name for almost four decades.
There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Warlick will continue Summitt's legacy at Tennessee. Warlick has dutifully served under Summitt for 27 years and even took over game-day coaching duties in the 2011-12 season.
Summitt told The Washington Post's Liz Clarke, "It is what it is. And Holly has been doing a lot, and we not only have a great friendship, we understand each other. And we can work through this."
In her final season at the helm of the Volunteers, Summitt led the team to a 27-9 record, a second-place finish in the SEC and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, where Tennessee bowed out to eventual champion Baylor in the national quarterfinals.
Though there will never be a "right" time for someone like Summitt to leave behind the game of basketball, now is as right a time as there will ever be. It is never easy to see someone like her step aside, someone who proved that, gender aside, her success is just as impressive as anyone else's on the men's side of things.
Achieving success with the same program for so long isn't an easy task. Over the years, the level of competition fluctuates, players come and go and new leaders emerge elsewhere. Despite all of that, Summitt remained the best of the best. After a while, she wasn't viewed as a great women's coach; she was simply viewed as a great coach, period. That in itself shouldn't be an accomplishment, but for better or worse, it is.
For 38 seasons, Pat Summitt was the standard, and no matter what the future holds for her role at Tennessee, she'll always be considered one of the best basketball coaches to ever cut down a net.
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