Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Guru's Report On The Pat Summitt News: Philly Coaches -- And More -- React

(Guru’s note: A personality piece about Summitt was written for fullcourt.com and there are several other stories there as well by original Tennessee beat reporter Mike Siroky, who now lives in Indiana. This post is a local reaction piece from area coaches on the move. There is a separate that will be written on Tennessee’s AP Poll success here, but the Guru doesn’t know what order it will hit the blog so be sure to hit mel’s blog if you are in melgreenberg.com.)

By Mel Greenberg

Coaches with area connections weighed in throughout Wednesday in phone calls, email statements, and twitter accounts reacting to the news that Tennessee Hall of Fame legendary coach Pat Summitt would be leaving the sidelines to become Head Coach Emeritus and that Holly Warlick, her longtime former player and associate head coach, would replace her.

The news was not surprising since it seemed some move would be made after a tumultuous season in which Summitt, as the head coach, battled early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, a condition she revealed in late August.

Warlick, with help from the rest of the staff, handled more duties with Warlick being the official postgame spokesperson for the coaching staff.

Though the announcement came Wednesday, a press conference at Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena will be held Thursday afternoon.

Some reaction will continue in the next posts if time didn’t allow for it to be here.

Villanova longtime coach Harry Perretta had the closest association with Summitt among the immediate locals, in part forged by a working relationship that was struck in 2003 when Summitt wanted to learn the motion offense of the Wildcats and was directed to Perretta, considered the master of the strategy in the women’s game.

Summitt took an immediate liking to Perretta and the budding relationship was big news in the sport at the time because of his longtime Philly friendship with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who then was considered the national archrival to Summitt and vice versa.

Things got wilder later in the season when Villanova upset Connecticut in the Big East title game to end the then-Huskies NCAA record win streak for women at 70 games.

The Wildcats got as high seed and advanced to the regional in Knoxville on the other side of the Tennessee bracket, meaning Villanova would be playing Colorado first while the Lady Vols were matched with Penn State.

When Perretta’s group arrived Summitt tossed a barbecue with her team and the Wildcats contingent, a social event that even astounded the Knoxville folks who had always the impression any potential foe is a dangerous foe until business had been attended.

Villanova beat Colorado but Tennessee ended the Cinderella run in the region title game.

“Yeah, it’s funny how that all worked out,” Perretta said Wednesday night. “If she hadn’t approached me, she might just be somebody I know casually and run into a few times a year.

“In one way, it is really a sad time because what has happened and we’re losing someone who has been at the top of women’s basketball and been a leader forever,” Perretta said.

“But the way they’re handling it, it’s a great move by Tennessee and definitely the way to go. I’m happy she’ll still be involved and Holly deserves the chance.”

Perretta will be matching wits in part with Summitt’s son Tyler, who is graduating Tennessee and it was reported Wednesday he is going to be an assistant women’s coach at Marquette to Harrisburg’s Terri Mitchell in the Big East.

“I talked to him today and he’s excited about that,” Perretta said. “It’s going to be fun with him on the other bench when we play them.”

Theoretically, Marquette should be playing at Villanova this season, pending the Big East scheduling.

St. Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin had personal experiences going against Tennessee when she served time under her former coach Hawks coach Jim Foster, when he was at Vanderbilt before taking his current position at Ohio State.

“Women’s basketball lost a very good coach to retirement today,” Griffin said at Wednesday night’s annual Hawks postseason women’s awards dinner on campus. “I think her legend will live on in every player that she coached and every coach that is coaching today.

“I think the Tennessee spirit is Pat Summitt and I think it will continue and Holly will do a great job.”

Griffin recalled the rivalry in her time at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., against the Southeastern opponent.

“She always had the best talent and she always put the best team out there and they were tough to play and compete against day in and day out,” Griffin said. “She is one of the best coaches that we’ve ever played against. Her legend is going to go down in history and we wish her all the success in the world.”

Temple’s Tonya Cardoza, who dealt with Tennessee as a player for Virginia and later as a longtime assistant at Connecticut, tweeted: “Pat Summitt has been a pioneer for women’s basketball. She has inspired so many, will definitely be missed on the sidelines.”

Princeton’s Courtney Banghart, coach of the three-time defending Ivy champions, said in a call from the annual league meetings in New York, “When you have a passion and you can pursue your passion in your job, that is what we all aspire to do. She is a role model for those of us who love to compete every day and in doing so we are able to aspire to be like her.”

Penn State coach Coquese Washington noted, “Pat Summitt is truly a legend in our sport. She has impacted the game in so many ways and while she will certainly be missed, she will leave a legacy of excellence and success that will stand the test of the time.”

Drexel coach Denise Dillon offered: “We all, as coaches, have admired and looked up to Coach Summitt throughout her career, as a coach and a person. I think she handled every situation in a first-class way. She is a top-notch professional. I’m happy to see her being able to make this decision and remain involved. It’s important to Tennessee and women’s basketball.”

Before Delaware held its annual postseason dinner in Newark, Blue Hens coach Tina Martin, a longtime veteran on the sidelines, said, “From the day she began coaching, coaches have looked up to her, admired her, and have tried to emulate her.

“Her passion and intensity for the game has been the leader for our sport. Certainly, we’re going to miss her on the sidelines, but it’s great to see she’s still staying involved in the sport of basketball and the administration at Tennessee,” Martin continued.

“She will never be replaced. It’s impossible to replace a legend. I can’t say enough words about Pat Summitt and how she has meant to my career. She has been a role model and someone I will always respect and cherish the time that she was coaching at Tennessee.”

North Philadelphia’s Dawn Staley, the former Temple coach who is at South Carolina and has gone up against Summitt as a player at Virginia and coaching both the Owls and Gamecocks on the sidelines, said in a statement from her university: “There will be a tremendous void in our game. Coach Summitt has left a legacy for all coaches to follow. I will do my best to uphold the standard of excellence she has displayed for the past 38 years.”

Fordham coach Stephanie V. Gaitley, a former Villanova star who went against Summitt on the sidelines when she coached at St. Joseph’s, wrote, “I have the utmost respect for both Pat and Holly. They truly embody what is right about our sport.

“Pat was kind enough to bring her Tennessee team to St. Joes for our first-ever sellout. She always believed in doing what was right to promote women’s basketball. Harry (Perretta) and I spent a few days with Pat some summers back and I was amazed at her ability to impact every person she met,” Gaitley said.

“She is not only an incredible ambassador of our sport but a wonderful and kind hearted person. I am so happy to hear she will continue to affect the lives of the student athletes on a daily basis. Holly is an extension of Pat and will keep the Lady Vols among the elite teams.”

Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer, who perhaps assumes the throne as the longtime active sage in the sport, was attending a Title IX dinner in Michigan, but communicated through the Scarlet Knights’ athletic department: “For such a longtime, Pat Summitt has been the gatekeeper for women’s basketball.

“Her contributions to the game go far beyond the 1,098 victories and eight national championships,” said Stringer, whose Rutgers, Iowa and Cheyney teams competed against the Lady Vols over the decades. “It’s about impact she had on every Lady Vol that has come through that program to the countless others across the globe whose lives she has touched – those are things that made Pat special. She represents a pillar of strength and a source of inspiration for all of us.

“The news saddens mean because I have personally shared so many conversations with her as it relates to everything from basketball to family life. I feel like a piece of me has left the game and there is no bigger loss to women’s basketball. Although the world will miss seeing her on the sidelines, I know Pat will continue to be a rock for the Tennessee program in her new role.”

Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw, a former St. Joseph’s star, said in a statement from the Irish: “While I’m certainly sad to hear Pat is stepping down as the head coach at the University of Tennessee, I think today is really a time to celebrate Pat’s amazing accomplishments and everything she has done to help bring the sport of women’s basketball to where it is today.

“The word `legend,’ can sometimes be overused in sport, but in Pat’s case, that’s exactly what she is. Pat has set the bar so high for all of us, not only with the success her teams have enjoyed on the court, but the way she has carried herself off the court, with such class, dignity and grace.

“It’s a standard of excellence that likely will never be matched in our game, and I feel fortunate and honored to have had the opportunity to coach against her, and to learn from her during my career. All of us at Notre Dame wish her good health and happiness in her new role as Head Coach Emeritus at Tennessee,” McGraw said.

“We know the Lady Vol program will remain strong and vibrant with Holly Warlick as head coach, and we wish her much success.”

Meanwhile at the Women’s Final Four in Denver, Connecticut’s Auriemma, who grew up in Norristown, shared some brief moments with Summitt when she attended the all-America presentation.

It seems what was once a heated rivalry reached détente, especially in light, according to a source, of the fact when Summitt and her son Tyler established the foundation to fight Alzheimer’s, Auriemma wrote the first check to donate to the cause with a five-figure number.

Auriemma stated, “Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did.

“In her new role, I’m sure she will continue to make significant impacts to the University of Tennessee and to the game of women’s basketball as a whole,” Auriemma noted.

“I am thrilled for Holly as this opportunity is well deserved and a huge asset to her moving forward.”

Auriemma is now more involved in preparations to coach the Olympic team and five former UConn players in London, though he said at the WNBA draft Monday at ESPN headquarters in Connecticut he does play a recruiting trip this weekend.

And considering recruiting, Mike Flynn, longtime head of the nationally-respected local Blue Star Basketball and Philadelphia Belles AAU program, tweeted, “I believe Pat Summitt should be remembered for this one CORE item: her tenacity and strength of will to win, no matter what, over so many years.”

Former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, who grew up near Trenton, N.J., the state capital, wrote, “I am not sad that Pat’s career is over – I am happy that it happened and I was around to benefit from her.

“She is an extraordinary talent as a coach and she shared knowledge with anyone who sought her out,” Ryan said. “Pat was a tremendous role model for me as I grew up in the coaching profession.

“She willed women’s basketball in a sense, to actually be the viable profession that it is today. Pat is the consummate leader of young women. Her courageous battle with dementia is well noted but her sense of humor prevails,” Ryan continued.

“Pat is the down home country girl who always offered you a place to stay and a hot home cooked meal if you were just passing through. She has always been a kind, giving person and her selfless move to step aside is evidence of her unconditional love for the Lady Vols,” Ryan said.

“Pat is simply the best and she gave everyone of us an incredible gift that will live on in this game forever.”

Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade, who grew up in South Jersey near here, said, “Pat’s legacy in the sport and athletics nationally and internationally will forever be part of history. But more importantly, Pat Summitt is a person of integrity that always went the extra mile for others and simply made a difference.”

From elsewhere in the Atlantic 10, new George Washington coach Jonathan Tsipis, former Notre Dame associate head coach, said, “Coach Summitt has and will continue to empower young women to accomplish their goals on and off the court.

“Many of the wonderful things we have in our game today are a direct result of Coach Summitt and her ability to grow the game,” Tsipis continued. “We are all better coaches because of the guidance Coach Summitt gave our game. She always treated people with great respect.”

Richmond’s Michael Shafer, who went against Tennessee when he was a Georgia assistant to Andy Landers, said, “Pat has done so much for women’s basketball that it is fitting that she remains as the figure head at Tennessee. Pat still has a great deal to offer Tennessee and the game of basketball.

“Having coached against Holly during my days at Georgia, I feel confident that she will continue the proud tradition that she helped build with Pat at Tennessee. Obviously, she has been as close to their program and been a vital part of their success for many years. I expect this to be a good change for Tennessee.”

Charlotte’s Cara Consuegra said, “The impact Coach Summitt has made as a pioneer for women’s basketball and women’s athletics cannot be measured. Every coach, parent, can learn from her class, integrity, passion and courage. Pat Summitt is a legend in our game that will truly be missed.

Dayton’s Jim Jabir noted: Coach Summitt is a legend and has created a model that is emulated by lesser coaches. She didn’t build winning teams, she built a lasting program. Few have her strength and determination.

“Having Holly Warlick follow Coach Summitt is only logical considering she has been at Coach’s side for such a long time in building this special program. She, too, is such a part of this great tradition.”

Meanwhile, from Xavier’s Amy Waugh came, “Women’s basketball is forever indebted to Pat Summitt. She set the standard of excellence with her courage, passion and intensity.”

From the Colonial Athletic Association, Old Dominion’s Karen Barefoot said, “I will be forever grateful to her for giving me such great advice at the age of 22 when I started coaching. She is the all time best.”

Elsewhere in the Ivy League, Cornell’s Dayna Smith, said, “Pat Summitt was the one true role model for all female coaches. When I first started coaching I read all of her books. You strive to simulate her leadership abilities, her knowledge of the game and her passion to help young women. She was a pioneer for our game and profession.”

An apology from the Guru to Penn’s Mike McLaughlin, who called late but was told the Guru thought he saw an email statement from the Quakers. It’s been a long night into day – as always. The Guru will get to him for the next installment.

Columbia’s Paul Nixon, whose parents go back to Summitt’s early years, said, “I recall the story my mother tells of the time Pat Summitt came over and talked to her and one of my father’s players on the bench after a tough game my father’s team (Ed Nixon – Mississippi College) had to lost to Pat and her teammates at UT-Martin.

“She was offering words of encouragement to my dad’s player and getting her “pumped up” for the next game. Even though she was still a player at the time, Pat was already coaching! She is and always will be the name and face that everyone associates with college women’s basketball, and she has set the standard that all coaches, men or women, at every level should strive to live up to,” Nixon related.

“As the reigns of the Lady Vol program are passed to Holly Warlick, there is no individual who has been better prepared to be her successor and everyone in the women’s basketball community wishes Holly all the best.”

-- Mel


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