She was a trailblazer. A pioneer. A teacher. A leader.
She did so much for women's sports, but to define her career and accomplishments in the context of only women's sports would be a disservice to her. And to women.
Simply put, she is one of the greatest coaches we've ever seen.
Summitt died Tuesday following a battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She was only 64.
She should have won more than a record 1,098 games in 38 seasons as the women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. She should have won more than eight national titles. She should have been to more than 18 NCAA Final Fours. And she would have, had she not fallen ill.
"When you choose to be a competitor, you choose to be a survivor," Summitt once wrote. "When you choose to compete, you make the conscious decision to find out what your real limits are, not just what you think they are."
Summitt had no limits, a lesson learned growing up on a farm.
She was born Patricia Sue Head in the summer of 1952 in Clarksville, Tenn. Her daddy called her Tricia. Everyone else called her Pat. She worked with her four siblings under the stern hand of her father, who told his kids, "Cows don't take a day off." The Head children baled hay and chopped tobacco during the day. At night, they played basketball on a hoop nailed to the barn.
"I was the only girl," Summitt once said. "They beat me up, but it made me tougher."
She was so good that her family moved so she could play high school basketball on a girls team. She went on to play for the 1976 U.S. Olympic team. By then, she had already graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She was only 22 when she was named the head coach at Tennessee.
She made $250 a month. She held bake sales to pay for team uniforms, which she washed herself. For away games, her team slept in the other team's gym to save money. She drove the team van. And the Lady Vols — always the "Lady Vols" — won. And won and won and won.
"Here's how I'm going to beat you: I'm going to outwork you," Summitt wrote in her 1999 book Reach for the Summitt. "That's it. That's all there is to it."
Summitt was tough, mean. She was intimidating. She never cried, never whined. She screamed. She threw things. She shot her steely-blue eyes so often that it had a nickname: The Look. You never wanted to be on the receiving end of The Look.
Alberta Auguste, who played for Summitt, remembered losing a game to LSU once.
"We were supposed to have practice," Auguste said. "She surprised us and told us we didn't have practice. We needed to go up the rafters, the highest rafters, to see what it was like for fans to pay money and sit up there. And to think about what it's like for people to pay to see a team that's supposed to be national champion lose like that."
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She once made her team practice after the last game of the season.
Yet she could be compassionate, too. Once, the Lady Vols lost in overtime to rival Stanford right before Christmas break. After the game, Summitt broke the news on the team bus to player Alexis Hornbuckle that Hornbuckle's grandmother had died.
"Coach was there for me," Hornbuckle said. "She was more than a basketball coach. She was a very heartfelt woman. Every player who comes through her program is like another child to her."
Case in point:
"She always had her players over to the house," former player and current LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. "Coach Summitt can throw down in the kitchen, now. Ribs. Jalapeno corn, grilled your steaks."
Years after graduating, Caldwell bought a bulldog. Her husband, Justin, had the perfect name: Summitt. But you don't name your dog after Summitt without checking first.
"Pat, Justin wants to name our dog Summitt," Caldwell said. "This bulldog is the cutest thing going. And it's got these piercing eyes. She said that would be fine. I had to clear it with Pat. Hey, I don't want to get that stare-down. But I think Pat liked having a dog — a bulldog! — named for her."
Summitt was a bulldog. Like the time in 2008, a couple of months before her final national championship here in Tampa, when she tried to scoot a raccoon off her porch. She dislocated her shoulder, then spent two hours trying to pop it back into place before finally giving in and going to the doctor.
Her teams played with the same ferociousness.
"She's the hardest-working woman I've ever met in my life," former Tennessee star Candace Parker, one of the greatest female players ever, told ESPN. "She didn't just say things; she did what she said. That was evident in the way she lived and the way she taught us as players."
As a result, Tennessee became the gold standard of women's college basketball. Her players won games and earned degrees. Summitt and the Lady Vols helped the sport gain credibility and respect. Eventually UConn became a powerhouse, creating an uncomfortable and contentious rivalry between Summitt and UConn coach Geno Auriemma. Summitt even bought a pair of aggressive fish for her office, calling one Pat and the other Geno.
"I'd walk into the office," Summitt wrote, "and check the tank and ask our secretaries cheerfully, 'Did Pat eat Geno yet?' "
The two never did get along, yet Auriemma praised Summitt on Tuesday, telling ESPN, "From all the different aspects of looking at what her career was, there were a lot of things that she was the first. There were other people that did it, but nobody did it better or did it longer."
If Dr. James Naismith was the father of basketball, Summitt was the mother of women's basketball. She was women's basketball — a one-person Mount Rushmore for the game. But her career could easily place her alongside any coaching great, from John Wooden to Vince Lombardi.
She also was about Tennessee. NFL great Peyton Manning said he consulted with Summitt before deciding whether to return for his senior season there.
"It would have been a great experience to play for her," Manning said in a statement. "She could have coached any team, any sport, men's or women's. It wouldn't have mattered because Pat could flat-out coach."
Summitt likely would still be coaching had she not been diagnosed with her disease in 2011 at the age of 59. She was forced to retire from coaching, but she didn't stop working. She started the Pat Summitt Foundation to find a cure for Alzheimer's.
"There's not going to be any pity party," she said at the time, "and I'll make sure of that."
Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, who wrote two books with Summitt, wrote, "Leave it to Pat to make something good out of Alzheimer's disease — graceful, even. … As usual, she has come up with an elegant solution to a difficult problem, and produced another victory."
Summitt might have lost her final battle on Tuesday, but she will always be a winner.
One of the best we have ever seen.