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.

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

    I'll tell you why Obama is giving her the Medal of Freedom(not that she doesn't deserve it and a lot more ) -
    the same reason he does ANYTHING these days- VOTES from women.

    April 20, 2012 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4