Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: The Best Wanted to Play for Pat Summitt Because She Was the Best

Posted on June 29, 2016

This week, Tennessee lost a woman of style, a woman of substance, a farm girl who grew up to win eight national championships. Over her 38 years coaching the Lady Vols, Pat Summitt became the winningest basketball coach, man or woman, in Division I history.

While serving as the president of the University of Tennessee, I had the privilege of watching Pat coach the Lady Vols to their 1989 NCAA championship.

After they won, I had the honor of going to the White House with Pat and the team. President George H.W. Bush recited the usual statistics about Pat’s remarkable coaching career. 

The president said in 13 years, she brought Tennessee to the final four 10 times—this was in 1989 long before she retired—winning it twice. 

When it came time for Pat to speak she said, “Mr. President, we're honored and delighted to be here. I was extremely proud of our academic success. We have won two national championships in the last three years. But, the most important statistic for our team and our program is the 100 percent graduation rate of which we will hold our heads very proudly.”

It will be hard for people outside Tennessee to appreciate how much she became a part of us. 

She literally taught us the game. When she began her career at age 22 as a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, the NCAA didn’t even sponsor a national championship game. But Pat invented many aspects of the women's college game, and what she didn't invent, she taught to the rest of us. 

She was so up-front and personal about it all. 

She introduced us to her players. She told us about their great abilities and successes. She told us about their failures and when they weren't living up to their potential. 

She invited us to go into her locker room at half-time and listen to her fiery half-time speeches. 

She made time for every single person who touched her. 

There are countless stories about that, but the best wanted to play for Pat because she was the best. 

Tennesseans are very proud of Pat Summitt. We know that when the nation saw her, they might think a little better of us because she was one of us. 

We honor her life. We honor that she lived that life by the book and that she taught so many young women how to live their life by the book. She brought out the best in so many of them and inspired the rest of us to maybe think a little bigger of ourselves as well. 

This week, I had the honor to join Sen. Bob Corker in introducing a Senate resolution and speaking on the Senate floor to pay tribute to the legendary Lady Vols coach.

Pat did far more than win eight national championships: she changed the lives of the young women she coached, she showed us the measure of a real champion and her fight against Alzheimer’s set an example for us all.

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