The Washington Post

Pat Summitt’s backup team

Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt talks with guard Taber Spani, right, during NCAA college basketball practice Friday, March 26, 2010, in Memphis, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

In a Monday, Aug. 22, 2011, photo provided by the University of Tennessee, Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt sits next to her son, Tyler Summitt, at her Knoxville, Tenn. Summitt plans to coach "as long as the good Lord is willing" despite recently being diagnosed with early onset dementia. (Debby Jennings/AP)

But of all the leadership accomplishments she’s achieved, whether they are unparalleled performance on the court or cultural shifts benefitting women’s sports at large, the one she may have gotten the least attention for is the coaching team she’s built. As Jenkins wrote Tuesday, “Summitt has constructed a stable, deeply experienced staff”- including assistant coaches Holly Warlick, who has coached by Summitt’s side for 26 seasons; Mickie DeMoss, who has been a head coach at Kentucky and also has 19 years with the team; and Dean Lockwood, another former head coach who has been on Summitt’s coaching staff for seven years. He is only the ninth assistant to serve under Summitt in her 37 years in the job.

This would matter most if Summitt was choosing--as many would expect--to step down from the job. But given her condition, it matters almost as much now that we know Summitt is staying on as head coach. She will need the able experience and reputations of her staff to back up a decision many more would find controversial--that is, if her backup plan wasn’t so sound.

Tennessee women's basketball head coach Pat Summitt speaks as she is inducted into the Tennessee Women's Hall of Fame on Friday, June 17, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

How well the division of responsibilities will work in practice remains to be seen. It is hard for leaders to let go of the reins, even if they’re Pat Summitt and have been good at delegating in the past. When the Lady Vols do lose, critics are sure to question whether Summitt’s holding onto the job is having an impact. And there will come a time, most likely, when decisions will have to be made about how much longer Summitt can coach.

Fortunately, it appears that when that day does come, the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee will be in good hands. And that achievement should be put right up there with the thousand wins and the repeat Final Fours. It is hard for many leaders to look beyond their own record when in fact, their biggest legacy is the team and the leadership they leave behind.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.



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