It is a moment I will never forget.
Humbly sitting in my plastic fold-up chair with ESPN’s George Smith going live just to my left with reporters from the Washington Post, The New York Times and virtually every fathomable media outlet sitting amongst the crowd.
Upwards of 20 camera crews–hand counted by myself–pointed towards one seat. But the barrage of media isn’t what makes this moment memorable–it was far from it, in fact. Everything I had known, everything I had grown up with, was coming to an end in front of my own two eyes.
Pat Summitt was stepping down.
The table was set and restlessness grew. All I could think was, "wow".
Speechlessness struck and for good reason. Throw the numbers out the window. There is truly no way to measure Summitt’s impact on sports – the eight national titles don’t do the coach enough justice.
Why? Because there is a very legitimate argument that Summitt was the most impactful coach in sports history. That’s right, history. Read that sentence over if you must.
It is a dark question. Where would women’s athletics be without Pat Summitt? Sure, many a coach, player, and lobbyist have fought for women’s equal opportunity in sports but there is no doubt that Summitt was at the forefront of its demands.
However, I have to be quite honest with you. From where I sat, just inches away from the legend, I did not think of her impact on gender equality in sports, I did not think about her 1,098 victories or her 13 national championship appearances. Instead, I selfishly thought, "what’s left?"
Growing up living and breathing orange, if there was one thing I could count on, it was coaching consistency at UT. Oh, how far we have fallen.
In my eyes, Pat Summitt stepping down ends an era at Tennessee we may never see again. If I had a nickel for every time I have heard someone joke, “Well, at least we have ladies basketball,” I wouldn’t have to be in college at all.
Sitting at her press conference, recorder clutched in hand, I thought to myself “Well, at least we have....” What do we have?
Unless you have been living under a sports rock, you know that Vols football is anything but stable. The cornerstone stability duo of Phillip Fulmer and Pat Summitt are gone. The departure of Fulmer led to more instability. A name mentioned in hush on UT’s campus, Lane Kiffin, left the program in disaster. Early on, Derek Dooley has proved not even the son of a SEC coaching folklore can put it back together.
But, there was hope! Bruce Pearl has put UT basketball on the map like never before. Year after year the Vols mazed their way through the NCAA tournament. In a flash of both an eye and barbeque–gone.
I understand that Holly Warlick has been Summitt’s assistant for nearly as long as she’s been in orange, but I feel UT coaching has finally unraveled.
Being a student, or die-hard fan, heck, maybe even both during this era of Tennessee sports, there is no heavier burden.
I look back at my fan-hood days from the 1990s and never did I utter the phrase “next season”. After Fulmer’s departure the utterance began. But now, I hesitate to ponder ‘next season’ with so many new questions and uncertainties facing the program.
In my account, with Summitt stepping down, there is a new era of question marks beginning at UT.