Post columnist Sally Jenkins spokes with Tennessee women’s basketball assistant coaches Mickie DeMoss, Holly Warlick and Dean Lockwood about Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt’s revelation that she has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. A transcript follows:
Q. What’s arrangement going forward as far as coaching duties?
Dean Lockwood: It’s going to be what Pat’s comfortable with at any given point at time. We’re going to play off of her.
Q. What about recruiting?
Mickie DeMoss: We’re dealing with a lot of unknowns right now. We’re dealing with uncharted waters. We don’t know how people are going to respond. So we have a plan and we want to be able to answer questions with solid answers.
Q. What do you say to parents of recruits?
Holly Warlick: We say Pat’s still the head coach. This something she’s dealing with and publicly dealing with t. She still has the desire to be a part of program and that hasn’t changed.
Q. The assistants have aways had a lot of say in the way things are done; does that makes the adjustment easier?
DeMoss: Pat’s always, as long as I’ve been here, delegated a lot of responsibilities. That’s why she develops coaches that have gone on to be head coaches, and players who have gone in the profession, because she teaches the game very well. She always has. And she allows you to exercise your strengths as an assistant, and I don’t think that’s going to be a huge adjustment. She’s always given her assistants so much responsibility that it’s not like ‘Oh, wow, all of sudden this is dumped in my lap, and I don’t know how to handle it.’ It’s not going to be a huge adjustment for us.
Lockwood: One of the signs of great leadership is that you prepare people. [Minnesota Vikings football coach] Bud Grant once said, the sign of great leadership is when you can step away for any length of time and the ship runs normally. One of Pat’s strength is that she’s done a great job in giving people autonomy and leadership in key areas, and I think to be frank, at this moment, this is probably one of the greatest insurance things she’s done, and one of the signs of her leader. I’m going to tell you there are certain areas where she will delegate and you don’t feel her looking over your shoulder, you feel this obligation and you don’t want to screw up because she’s given you so much freedom. So I think in that sense it comes now not to haunt her, but to really reveal the leader that she is.
DeMoss: Right. It’s a reflection of her.
Q. You seem to have a peace about this. Everyone outside the program is going “Whoa, she’s going to keep coaching?” And you are saying. “Yes.”
Warlick: I think when Pat decided to come forth with this, it was like a weight was lifted from her shoulders. You see the calmness in her, and how she’s handling it, and we kind of play off of it, and we’ve been around her and she knows we’re going to do things the right way, and the way she would want us to do it.
Q. How did she tell you and what were your immediate responses?
DeMoss: I don’t know that there was any specific moment that’s he told me, personally. She dealt with each one of us differently. This is a close-knit staff, and we knew some of the issues she was dealing with during the year. We’re so closely intertwined that we knew those issues, and some of the diagnoses she was getting from the local doctors, and it was just one day at a time and very supportive. Then it was the Mayo Clinic, and she came back with that diagnosis. And she was always very forthcoming with all of us about what the doctors had said. So I don’t know if there was one big moment.
Q. Were you saying ‘What is wrong with her?”
Warlick: When she was dealing with her rheumatoid and doing some of the medication, we were concerned about that. But then when she went to Mayo Clinic and got it solidified, you know . . .
DeMoss: We noticed some changes in behavior. But when you’ve been coaching as long as Pat’s been coaching and been at the top you do start giving up a little bit of this and that and saying, “I don’t want to teach this drill, or that drill.” So it was almost a natural evolution.
Lockwood: And there were several times during that juncture with the rheumatoid that the medications were changing, they were trying a little bit of this and that with her, so honestly we were not sure at all what to attribute it to.
Q. You all seem calm about this.
Lockwood: For me one of the reasons, we can feel that is because I trust the process of what’s going on here. What we’re doing, our day-to-day process, is not going to change at all. Small things will be a little different, but the process, the underlying tenets, the foundation, that’s not going to change at all.