Eight months after disclosing her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Pat Summitt announced Wednesday that she will step aside as the Tennessee women’s basketball coach, making way for longtime assistant Holly Warlick to take over the Lady Vols.
The university made the news official via a press release Wednesday afternoon after Summitt, 59, met with her players in Knoxville, Tenn., to inform them in private. A news conference is expected to follow Thursday.
Summitt, who has won more college basketball games than any man or woman in the sport (1,098), is not retiring but will remain part of Tennessee’s staff, assuming the title “head coach emeritus,” which will give her latitude and flexibility to do as much mentoring with players as her health allows.
But her role will be circumscribed by NCAA rules, which will permit her to watch practice, collaborate on game plans and continue as a motivator, disciplinarian and mentor but will preclude her from actively coaching. Rather than sit on the bench during games, she’ll sit directly behind the Lady Vols’ staff, able to consult with Warlick and, no doubt, telegraph her impressions of what’s unfolding on the court through her famously piercing glare.
The development brings a measure of stability to an inherently fluid and unknowable situation, with neither Summitt nor her doctors able to predict the course of the disease.
In an exclusive interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday morning, Summitt said the decision to step aside after 38 seasons as Tennessee’s coach was not difficult, particularly given her long and productive association with Warlick, an assistant the past 27 years who shouldered game-day coaching duties last season, when Tennessee went 27-9 and lost to eventual national champion Baylor in a NCAA tournament region final.
“It is what it is,” Summitt said. “And Holly has been doing a lot, and we not only have a great friendship, we understand each other. And we can work through this.”
Warlick, 53, a three-time all-American and former Tennessee point guard, was a member of the coaching staff for all eight NCAA championships won under Summitt.
“She is my coach, mentor and great friend, and I am honored with the opportunity to continue and add to the great tradition of this program,” Warlick said.
Speaking to The Post, Summitt said that she felt good in terms of her health and intended to keep working not just for herself but also for the Lady Vols’ young players (Tennessee is losing five seniors) and for others facing medical challenges.
“I think I can help others just by my example,” she said.
And she intended to make that point when she met with her team on Wednesday.
“I want to talk to them and let them know I’m still going to be there,” Summitt said. “The thing is: I have to keep living and doing what I want to do, and those players mean the world to me. With us having five seniors leaving, I feel obligated in a positive way to be there for the team.”
Summitt’s new role, in which she’ll report to vice chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart, was negotiated by Robert Barnett of Washington’s Williams and Connolly law firm, her longtime friend and attorney.
“This is just a progression,” Barnett said in an interview. “Pat has been — and will always be — a coach, a mentor and a friend to many. Her title may be different, but her role will be very much the same. She will guide — through instruction and example — players, coaches, the university, her community and, as an advocate, our country.”
Wednesday’s announcement coincided with another major development in the Summitt household. Her son Tyler Summitt, 21, due to graduate from Tennessee this spring after completing his degree in just three years, confirmed that he has accepted an assistant coaching job with Marquette’s women’s basketball team.
Summitt concludes her head coaching career with a 1,098-208 record and an .841 winning percentage. Her teams won the NCAA championship in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2007 and 2008.
Staff writer Sally Jenkins, in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.