This is not the article I want to write. In fact, I never thought I would ever write anything like what I’m about to pen. I want to write a fiercely-worded diatribe about the insanely short-sighted and self-defeating nonsense of a petition that 40,000 Vols fans signed to fire their winning coach to hire another coach who was never going to come back…almost assuring that the currently winning coach wouldn’t come back either.
I would like to write…and may in the next few weeks…about the decision this week by the National Labor Relations Board to allow college athletes to unionize, and how the effete and corrupt cesspool that is the NCAA has brought this whirlwind of retrograde, retribution, and redistribution on themselves, possibly killing sports we love.
Something needs to be written about the persistent and incredibly scandalous controversy coming out of North Carolina about athletes not even being able to read, the academic fraud involved, and the continuing cover-up in Chapel Hill. I even considered writing about Johnny Manziel and his pro-like pro-day performance, and how it would affect the NFL Draft and sports culture in general.
But I got to thinking…there’s way too much negativity and chaos floating around in the ether these days. It’s too easy to draw from that well. Venezuela, and most of South America, is roiled in tumult and political upheaval, Russia is treating Eastern Europe and her boundaries like the board game RISK, and there’s that plane that nobody can find. The NSA can read every email and listen to every phone call my grandmother makes, but nobody can find a huge plane. It’s all just weird and negative. So, let’s be positive. Surely, there is someone or something out there that we can look to and admire. There is…hence, my bewildered and confused state at this University of Georgia fan coming up with one name: Patricia Sue Summitt.
As you are reading this, March Madness is in the full throes of insanity, and 16 teams have been whittled down to 4. Basketball is the topic de jour, and so, in a sense, this is timely. Pat Summitt is a household name for most sports fans regardless of which school you cheer for, or what state you are from. If you care anything about sport, you know her name. Some even posit that she’s the greatest coach of all time (Not quite.). Now, it is true that some people wind up being famous just for being famous (see that stupid Kardashian family or any of those challenged people on MTV for examples), but Coach Summitt more than deserves the praise and accolades given her. I must admit, over the years, I’ve listened to my friends who bleed orange gush and gush about “Pat Summit this…” or “Pat Summitt that…”, and have, for the most part, rolled my eyes and moved on. Every school, and its fan base, has those folks who are sacrosanct and almost pious. I just chalked it up to this, and the fact the Tennessee fans care way more about ladies basketball than do I, and never really gave her much more thought. Then, I met her.
In 2009, I had just taken a job with a local bank in Cleveland, Tn., and in my function there, was invited to a United Way talk and fundraiser Coach Summitt was headlining (You see, she does that kind of thing a lot). After a very generous introduction, she took the dais, and that’s when I got “it”. Why everyone looks up to her…and I don’t mean because she’s 5-11. She spoke forcefully and eloquently about her accomplishments at UT, but not on the court. My guess is a full fifty percent of her talk was focused on the academic achievements of her players through the years, and what it had meant to her to watch young girls learn life lessons that turn them into winners. Many coaches say these things often, and some even mean it. I believed her, though. That’s the thing about Coach Summitt… you have to believe her. After her speech, a select few of us were invited back to a room to “meet and greet” her, get autographs, and generally fawn all over. As I shook her hand, and looked into her eyes, I realized something quickly…I wasn’t looking into her eyes, she was looking into mine. It was almost like she was reading me, which is a very creepy experience for a grown man in a suit…in a room full of prominent people. She was kind, cordial, and full. There was no empty there. She was a solid person who demanded greatness from every minute she experienced, and it came through clearly. After that, I’ve never rolled my eyes at another Vols fan who gushes when her name is spoken.
The record speaks volumes, and does so loudly. Over a thousand coaching wins, with an .840 career winning percentage. A .791 career winning percentage…on the road. Under Coach Summitt, the Lady Vols won 16 out 32 SEC Tournament Titles they played for. 46% of her 1306 games coached were against ranked opponents…they won 440 of those games. Seventy-two percent of her players have gone on to be decorated as Olympians, All-Americans, USA National team members, All-SEC performers, and Academic All-Americans, according to UTSports.com. Of the players she coached who played all four years, The University of Tennessee Lady Vols had a one hundred percent graduation rate. That’s a 100% graduation rate over a 38 year career. 100%. Those numbers deserve more than words.
So, yes, in a time of soupy chaos and uncertainty in everything from politics to sport…in a time where John Calipari is trying to alter the basketball landscape by winning with five true freshmen every year…in a time where the NCAA can’t find anything wrong with prostitutes and boosters at the University of Miami, even when the investigation was handed to them, but can rule that an ex-Marine can’t play football at MTSU, because he played intramural football while in service (yes, they changed this decision, but still…)…in a time where a supposed bastion of grand higher education like the University of North Carolina has one of the most egregious academic scandals and cover-ups of all time… yes…with all of this, there is one who stands above the fray and fracas as an example of how it should be done…and her name is Patricia Sue Summitt. Even for this Georgia Bulldog fan…I think I can say for everyone Coach…Thank you. We need more like you.
W. Michael Lawson is an alumnus of Lee University and University of Richmond. Mr. Lawson currently hosts a weekly radio show “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-hosts a daily sports show “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM/1570 AM. You can follow him on twitter @thestrongsauce.