Q&A: Tennessee Athletic Director Joan Cronan

August 23, 2011

Post columnist Sally Jenkins spokes with Tennessee Athletic Director Joan Cronan about Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt’s revelation that she has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. A transcript follows:

Q. Was there ever a thought that she should retire?

A. Absolutely not. When you think of Pat Summitt, you think of somebody that wants to make a difference, and someone that’s engaged. You know, she’s a coach.

Q. What do you say to a parent who says, “I’m worried about my daughter?”

A. I say, “Don’t you want your daughter to play for the winningest coach ever? Don’t you want her to play for a legend play? Don’t you want her to play for the best staff in America? Do you want your daughter to be part of a tradition?”

Q. What makes you comfortable with Pat Summitt continuing as head coach at Tennessee when there could be an uncomfortable element, given that Alzheimer’s-type dementia is such an unknown?

A. I’m comfortable because I’ve worked with Pat for over 30 years. I know her the person; I know her the coach. And I feel like if t wasn’t the right thing for her, or for us, she wouldn’t go forward.

Q. Are you concerned recruiting will take a hit?

A. Recruiting is about wanting to be the very best, and I would tell a young lady, “Would you have wanted to play for John Wooden his last ten years?” We don’t have a crystal ball, But Pat will coach as long as she’s capable and wants to coach.

Q. Is she impaired in any way?

A. No.

Q. Do you have a plan for how the new coaching staff responsibilities will be re-delegated?

A. I’ve watched Pat over the years, and she’s a team player, and we’ve got the most experienced staff in America. And Pat knows how to make a team work. The diagnose is early onset and again none of us have a crystal ball and none of us know what tomorrow holds as far as medication, or a cure. You know Pat’s the best motivator in America, that’s going to be a role that she plays.

Q. Are you in a unique position because the staff under her is so experienced? Mickie DeMoss has been there 20 years and been a successful head coach, Holly Warlick has been there 28 years. Dean Lockwood has been a head coach in the men’s game.

A. I think the staff that we have makes it a lot easier to go forward, and I give them a lot of credit. They coach together.

Q. It’s uncharted territory, isn’t it, to try to coach with this?

A. It’s unknown, yet it’s known that she’s going to face it. I think to come forward the way she did takes a lot of courage, but it’s a cornerstone of what she’s about. She’s always been straight-forward and a fighter.

We have confidence as we go forward with what we have, and what we can do. When I think about Pat I think about excellence, courage and somebody who made a difference, and who by coming forward can make a difference in a lot of other peoples lives. We all know Pat. She’s going to do everything she can possibly do. It’s uncharted waters. But we certainly know who the captain is. If I’m going across the ocean on transatlantic boat I want Pat to be in charge of it.

Q. What if her health deteriorates?

A. Pat is strong enough to make that call. Pat wants to do what’s best for Tennessee. If you look at her history, playing open-air games, playing games at midnight, doing all that she’s done for the game, and how much she loves the Big Orange country, she’s going to do what’s best for Tennessee.

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