The womens' game is all about who has that one, dominant, iconic player. Players like Lobo, Taurasi, Holdsclaw, Moore, and Griner. A lot of folks thought the game had passed Pat by in the years before Candace Parker got here, too.
That's true. But aside from that dominant player, I don't think she was getting as much out of her players as she used to...this season being an example of that. Of course this season is a pretty bad example because she obviously took a different role with the team this season, but still...I remember thinking in '99 that UT might have 15 or more national championships by the time she retired. As it turned out, they won, what, two more?
Pat's failure to land those dominant players in her latter years of coaching may have been just another example of a little bit of a slack-off at the end. In the '90s, there's no way she would've failed to grab a player like Griner if she wanted her. Parity obviously plays a role in that...those players have so many more choices to choose from now if they want a shot at winning a national championship. In the '90s there was Tennessee and UConn and Old Dominion and LSU and Georgia and not much else out there. And that parity is a direct result of what Pat Summitt accomplished at Tennessee.
One thing is for sure: there has never been a coach in any sport who meant as much for their sport as Pat Summitt meant for the game of women's basketball. Not just college, but women's basketball as a whole. If it hadn't been for Pat Summitt, I daresay you wouldn't see sold-out arenas at the NCAAW final four, or nationally-televised games, or even the WNBA. Sure, other coaches played a role...Sue Gunter, Andy Landers, that asshat up in Storrs, etc. But for many of them it was their rivalries with Summitt's UT teams that made them a part of the expanding success for women's basketball.
The fact that she did it while graduating every player who ever played for her, without compromising in her demand that her players uphold certain standards in regards to class attendance and visible tattoos, etc., and without ever landing in NCAA hot water for even minor violations is just astounding to think about. There will never be another coach in any sport who has a dominant impact -- and a positive impact -- on their game the way Pat Summitt did. It's just incredible.
One thing that I admired most about Pat Summitt: I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with her three years ago. She was one of the most humble and personable people you could ever hope to meet. She wasn't in a rush, even though it was getting late and she was an hour away from home...she made you feel like the type of person who you could invite to your home for dinner and have a 3-hour conversation with. In an age where sports coaches have something of a celebrity status, that's rare. Contrast Pat Summitt with Phil Fulmer. I had a one-on-one interview with him a few months after he was fired at UT and it was almost like he had to stand on his right foot with his left to keep from walking away.