Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tennessee Volunteers legendary coach Pat Summitt has early onset dementia

Pat Summitt, yelling at an official at a game last season, says she first blamed her memory issues on her medication for arthritis.

Associated Press

Pat Summitt, yelling at an official at a game last season, says she first blamed her memory issues on her medication for arthritis.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summitt struggled for several months with how to tell the women's basketball players at Tennessee, recruits and fans that she was having memory loss problems.

Finally, her son Tyler helped convince her to open up.

The Hall of Fame coach, 59, who has the most college basketball wins of all time, surprisingly said Tuesday she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia — the Alzheimer's type.

Step down after 37 seasons? Not a chance.

"I plan to continue to be your coach," she said in a statement.

Tennessee athletic director Joan Cronan said Summitt initially chalked up her memory problems during last season to side effects from medicine she was taking for rheumatoid arthritis. She forgot things at crucial points in games and struggled to keep track of meeting times. She grew so confused that on a few days she simply stayed home from work.

The coach consulted local doctors, who recommended a more extensive evaluation. In May, she went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors performed tests.

Summitt's reaction was anger, then determination. According to Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post columnist and a close friend of Summitt, doctors at the Mayo Clinic advised the coach to retire immediately and she responded: "Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?"

Summitt has spent 37 seasons at Tennessee and has 1,071 victories — a record for the men's or women's game — and eight national championships, with the most recent coming in the 2008 Final Four in Tampa.

Yet Summitt was unsure when to step forward until a student at Tennessee got her to talk about it.

Her 20-year-old son.

"Tyler has been so courageous in this," said Summitt's longtime associate head coach, Holly Warlick. "He encouraged her to come forward."

Tyler went to the Mayo Clinic with his mother. And he said her revelation is a life lesson for everyone.

"It seems like she teaches me something new every day, and she is currently giving me one of the best life lessons of all: to have the courage to be open, honest, and face the truth," he said.

Summitt's family and closest confidants have known about her condition since she first learned of it. Summitt revealed the news publicly to the Washington Post and Knoxville News Sentinel. She told the Vols on Tuesday afternoon in a team meeting.

Junior guard Taber Spani said the meeting was business-like, with Summitt calmly saying nothing would get in the way for their quest of a ninth national title this season.

Reaction to the news poured in from far and wide with rival coach Geno Auriemma of Connecticut saying in a statement from Italy, "There is no doubt in my mind that Pat will take on this challenge as she has all others during her Hall of Fame career — head on. I wish her all the best."

Florida coach Amanda Butler, a native of Tennessee, said: "To say that I was shocked or upset when I learned of Pat Summitt's condition is an understatement. … Pat is a powerful figure in Tennessee, but what she's done on a nation level to gain notoriety for the sport is amazing."

Tennessee Volunteers legendary coach Pat Summitt has early onset dementia 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 10:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.
  2. Rays vs. Orioles, 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Orioles

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

  3. Rays journal: Sergio Romo excited for fresh start in AL

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Sergio Romo was about to play catch with LHP Adam Kolarek before Monday's batting practice when he paused.

    RAMOS EXITS: Rays catcher Wilson Ramos clutches his head after being beaned by Ruben Tejada’s broken bat in the fifth inning. Ramos leaves the game and receives six staples to close a laceration on his head.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Monday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    LHP Blake Snell stepped up when the Rays needed him to — and perhaps when he had to to keep his job — working a season-high seven plus innings. And it wasn't only that he got deep into the game, but how he did so, using his fastball to pound the strike zone.

  5. Urban Meyer says the Big Ten is now the equal of the SEC


    CHICAGO — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer doesn't just believe the Big Ten has closed the gap with the more heralded SEC. He is convinced the race is a dead heat already.

    Ohio State’s Urban Meyer says the Big Ten East is as strong as the SEC East was when he coached UF to two national titles.