April 19th, 2012
02:17 PM ET

Tennessee's Summitt: 'It has been a privilege'

Pat Summitt said Thursday it wasn't easy stepping down as University of Tennessee women's basketball coach, but nearly a year after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, it was time.

"It's never a good time (to step down), but you have to find a time that you think is a good time, and that time is now," she told reporters at Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena.

Summitt, whose 1,098 wins are the most in major-college basketball history, spoke to reporters a day after the school announced that she would now serve as "head coach emeritus," helping with on-campus recruiting and mentoring players. Her associate head coach, Holly Warlick, has been named Summitt's successor after being an assistant on the team's staff for 27 seasons.

Shortly before Thursday afternoon's news conference, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would award Summitt the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, CNN's Brianna Keilar reported.

Summitt, 60, led the Lady Vols to eight national championships and a 1,098-208 record from 1974 to 2012. She announced her diagnosis more than two months before the 2011-12 basketball season began. Alzheimer’s causes significant memory and cognition problems; early onset means the disease was found before age 65.

Here are running updates from Thursday afternoon's news conference:

[Updated at 2:17 p.m. ET] The news conference has ended. One more quote from Warlick, who was holding a coach's whistle that Summitt had given her during the press conference in a kind of passing-the-torch moment:

"(Summitt) has been a coach, a mentor and a great friend. To have the opportunity to work under Pat Summitt for 27 years is the most incredible thing I can say," Warlick said.

[Updated at 2:16 p.m. ET] Warlick, who played for Summitt before serving as her assistant for 27 years, praised Summitt multiple times and said she will continue to be a great mentor."

"She built this program, and we're going to continue to use her in every way possible to continue that tradition," Warlick said.

Warlick revealed that Summitt told her toward the 2011-2012 season's end that she had done a good job that year, and that the praise meant the world to her. Warlick stepped up her duties last season, which came after Summitt revealed her diagnosis.

Warlick talked about what she and Summitt said to each other shortly before the job changes were announced Wednesday.

“'You need to be happy, and I'm not going anywhere,'" Summitt said, according to Warlick. "So, I'm happy today."

[Updated at 2:02 p.m. ET] Summitt has left the news conference to applause so that she can do an interview elsewhere with the school's media service. Before leaving, she gave Warlick another hug.

The focus of the news conference is now on Warlick. Hart, the athletic director, is talking about her now.

[Updated at 1:56 p.m. ET] New head coach Holly Warlick, asked if her ascension is bittersweet, said that "it’s always been great for me to have an opportunity to ... learn from coach Summitt for the last 27 years."

"It's  a new chapter in Pat's book, and I'm excited for her. I'm happy for our kids that Pat's still here, (and) for my peace of mind," Warlick said.

Warlick joked that Summitt told her Wednesday that since Warlick has been by Summitt's side for 27 years as an assistant, "she couldn’t bear not being around me every single day."

"Keep you in line," a joking Summitt responded.

[Updated at 1:49 p.m. ET] Summit's son, Tyler, says that people should keep in mind that his mother's new role still will let her be a mentor to Tennessee's players, and that will be important for the team. While people know Summitt in part for yelling at her players, she has long played an important role in being a guide in the players' lives, he said.

"She will still have a role as mentor and ... mom ... to the players," Tyler Summitt said.

[Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET]  Summitt was asked when she knew it was time to step down. She said that "knowing that Holly (Warlick) was going to be in great hands" helped.

"She's a great coach. I'm going to continue to support her. It's never a good time, but you have to find a time that you think is a good time, and that time is now," she said.

[Updated at 1:41 p.m. ET] Summitt turned her whistle over to Warlick, the new head coach. The two stood up and hugged.

[Updated at 1:35 p.m. ET] Hart has turned the floor over to Summitt.

She turned the spotlight on her son, who has just accepted an assistant women's basketball coaching job with Marquette. "Yesterday illustrated to me how the good Lord has a plan for my life. Wasn't it interesting, as I stepped aside (yesterday) as head coach, my son Tyler stepped into the game as an assistant with Marquette?"

"I have loved my work at the University of Tennessee. It has been awesome. It has been a privilege to make an impact on the lives of 161 women who have worn (Tennessee's uniform) ... and to see them graduate" and become successful women, she said.

"We have grown the game of women's basketball each and every day, along the way supported by the best fans in the country, no doubt."

[Updated at 1:31 p.m. ET] The news conference has begun with Athletics Director Dave Hart, Pat Summitt, her son Tyler Summitt, and Holly Warlick seated at a table. Hart kicked off the news conference by saying he could "speak about Pat Summitt from the heart for hours."

"I could reference her accomplishments from the competitive arena, and that (also) could take hours," he said. He said that Summitt's accomplishments - eight national championships, a 1,098-208 record - are so great, they seem like they're made up.

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Filed under: Basketball • College basketball • Sports • Tennessee
soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. Brian

    Wow. If she gets a Medal of Freedom for coaching women's basketball, perhaps I should get a Medal of Freedom for doing so many people's taxes.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fred

    Jeez..you people commenting are rubes!!!!!

    April 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mk82lald

    Bead and circuses, CNN, bread and circuses. All you're good to report on. Hey, tell us again how Zimmerman is "white", and Nugent is a threat to the US president. Or not, just report on sports. It's all you're good for...

    April 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Robert

    I have no idea why she would be receiving this award. She coach women's basketball and she got very for doing so.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      You obviously are ignorant of the many great accomplishments of Pat Summit, on and off the court of basketball. She has mentored young women – all of her student athletes have graduated and gone on to great success. Pat has supported countless charities and educational programs and scholarships. She has been an ambassador for our country, coaching a gold medal winning Olympics basketball team in 1984. She has written two inspirational books about teaching and motivating young people to achieve excellence. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Why don't you educate yourself before you post garbage?

      April 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. AGeek

    The Medal of Freedom? For coaching women's basketball?! The US has officially jumped the shark.

    April 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • ragman

      You ain't right Geek, read her Bio, then compare it to your accomplishments or ANY coach in the NBA for that matter...

      April 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BigAl

    Not sure why she would receive this honor. She'll likely forget it soon anyways...

    April 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Face

      But you won't BigAl, you are immortal ...

      April 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BigAl

    Testing

    April 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. FajitaBob

    The Pres is giving her the top civilian award for coaching a Fing game??? This guy has lost his mind. Any progress on that debt? GET TO WORK!!!!!

    April 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Matt

    Man we are just giving these things away

    April 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Unknow

    Why does she get a medal when there are plenty of female soldiers fight in the war and get nothing?
    They just want to rub woman nose to get woman votes for the re-election.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. world be free

    Only 10% of the big fish are left in the ocean.
    How is this relevant ?
    Because it will affect all of us. Just because it hasn't happened to you yet doesn't mean it won't happen.
    Know hunger.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jesse

    It is asinine to belittle the president (or any president) over how many medals he or she gives away. In four years Obama has actually given away less than half of the awards President Bush or Clinton gave away. Pat Summitt is a great woman, and plenty worthy of this honor. Stop being so petty people.

    April 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael

    The Medal of Freedom is awarded for

    "a meritorious act or service which has aided the United States in the prosecution of a war against an enemy or enemies and for which an award of another United States medal or decoration is considered inappropriate".

    Ummmm....I've read that five times now, and I just don't see the word "basketball" or "coach" in there....

    Am I missing something here?

    April 19, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Face

      research idicates that:

      The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States and is—along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress—the highest civilian award in the United States. It recognizes those individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors".

      April 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Sumo

    No doubt she's an amazing woman and a spectacular coach, but the fricking Medal of Freedom? Let's not forget that at the end of the day, basketball is JUST A GAME.

    I've known forward deployed civilians whose heroics would have earned them the Medal of Honor if they had been active duty, yet none of them have ever been considered the Medal of Freedom.

    Point is: MoF is supposed to be reserved for real-life heroics, not used as a sports medal. Maybe next year Obama will give them out to every member of the winning Super Bowl team!

    April 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jlf

    OMG!!! this is the icing on the cake. She is only the second woman in sports to receive this honor..the other, Billie Jean King. she joins the likes of Muhammed Ali,Arnold Palmer,Jackie Robinson,Frank Robinson,Ted Williams among others! it doesn't get any better than this!

    April 19, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
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