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Summitt leaves lasting legacy; It's sad to think she will slowly lose her ability to reflect on all she's done, to recall games and dates and faces. She can take comfort knowing the people who love the women's game can't possibly forget.

Pat Summitt has 1,098 wins, the most of any coach, man or woman, in Division I college basketball history. She won eight national championships at Tennessee, second only to UCLA's legendary John Wooden on the all-time list.

But Summitt's most remarkable job was the one she never took. It's still astonishing to know she was asked not once, but twice, to consider taking the vacant men's head coaching position at Tennessee.

They asked her back in 1994, and again in 2001. Think about that. Tennessee, an SEC powerhouse and one of the most prestigious athletic programs in America, believed a woman could turn around its struggling men's team.

It wasn't because UT wanted to say they were the first to hire a woman, but because they felt Summitt was a great coach, period. They believed she could win. That's how highly she is regarded in Knoxville. As legend has it, Peyton Manning's final visit was to Summitt's office before he decided to commit to the Volunteers.

Summitt didn't take the job. There still has not been a woman head coach at a men's D-I program. But there are a number of female assistants for men's teams. Some day, one of them could be the first. If it happens, she can thank Summitt for opening people's eyes to the possibility.

For 38 years, Summitt has been the face of women's basketball, a living monument to possibility. She was just 22 years old when she took the job in 1974 -- just two years after the passage of Title IX and two years before she won a silver medal with the U.S. women's team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

Summitt was the conscience of the sport, too. She began coaching when women were an afterthought, competing in the AIAW. She led the way into the NCAA, fought for more TV coverage, and helped make the women's NCAA Tournament a major media event, an April fixture, just like the men.

Every little girl who dribbles a ball in the driveway, dreaming of playing in the Final Four, owes Summitt a debt of gratitude. Every woman who wears a whistle, imagining a career in the SEC or Big East, coaches in her lengthening shadow.

And all hoop fans were saddened this past week when Summitt announced that she was stepping aside as Tennessee's head coach, less than one year after she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, an irreversible brain disease that erodes memory and cognitive skills.

Summitt first suspected something was wrong a year ago. She thought it might be the effects of medication for rheumatoid arthritis. When she was diagnosed in late summer, she had trouble accepting it. She wouldn't utter the word "Alzheimer's" for a time.

When the doctors suggested she immediately retire, Summitt blurted out, "Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?"

How could the docs have known, unless they had played for her and faced her iron will and smoldering, competitive passion? Had they ever committed a dumb turnover and been the object of one of her steely, penetrating stares?

This was a woman who went into labor on a flight back from a recruiting trip, but wouldn't deliver her only child -- son Tyler -- until the plane landed, because she wanted him to be born in Tennessee.

In her book, "Reach For the Summitt," she wrote: "When you choose to be a competitor, you choose to be a survivor."

How could a disease beat her? It would be like admitting defeat on the basketball court. Summitt figured she was tough and willful enough to come back, to overcome the odds. Isn't that what she taught her players?

But it was honesty and integrity she valued most. That's what stuck with her players in the end. Summitt could be the overbearing mother figure. But she took them as girls and, over four years, built them into strong, successful women.

Summitt worked them hard, then had them over for team meals. She made her players bring in family scrapbooks, so they could know each other better. Invariably, during a crisis later in life, she was the one they called.

Every one of the women who completed her eligibility at Tennessee got her degree. That's the record that towers above all. It should make some of today's unscrupulous college coaches turn away in shame.

Soon enough, Summitt accepted her disease and set about fighting it. As her son told the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins, who collaborated on two of Summitt's books, it was like a gun went off.

Summitt became a fervent spokesman for Alzheimer's, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. She established her own foundation, donating $150,000 in initial grants to Alzheimer's organizations.

Victims of early-onset typically live an extra eight to 10 years. She remained last season as head coach, while delegating more to her assistant coaches. But as her memory continued to slip, she decided it was time. On Wednesday, she stepped aside and handed her practice whistle to her long-time assistant, Holly Warlick.

The recent columns on her read like obituaries. She remains UT's head coach emeritus, but she leaves the bench too soon. Summitt is only 59. Who knows how much longer she might have coached? She could have won another 250 games.

But Summitt's legacy rises above mere wins and championships. In a way, she created modern women's basketball. She helped make it marketable. She encouraged programs that wanted to upgrade and created rivalries that elevated the sport. In the case of UConn, it spawned a monster program that would surpass hers and motivate her to end the epic Tennessee-UConn rivalry three years ago.

Women's basketball is richer for it. Jeff Jacobs, the fine Hartford Courant columnist who has covered as many big women's games as anyone in the country, said the tragedy is that Summitt will one day not be able to remember.

It's sad to think Summitt will slowly lose her ability to reflect on all she's done, to recall games and dates and faces. She can take comfort in the fact that the people who love the women's game can't possibly forget.


Career highlights / Hall of Fame coach revolutionized the women's game

April 30, 1974: Becomes women's head coach at UT, age 22.

1976: Plays on first United States Olympic women's basketball team and wins a silver medal at Montreal.

1984: Guides Team USA to gold at Los Angeles Olympics.

March 29, 1987: Wins first national title by defeating Louisiana Tech.

March 29, 1998:UT goes 39-0 and wins second national title.

Oct. 13, 2000: Is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

March 25, 2002: Reaches the Final Four for the 13th time, passing UCLA men's coach John Wooden.

March 22, 2005: Defeats Purdue in NCAA Tournament for win No. 880 to become all-time winningest basketball coach in NCAA history. Passes former North Carolina men's coach Dean Smith.

April 8, 2008:UT wins back-to-back NCAA national titles – and its eighth overall – by defeating Stanford.

Aug. 23, 2011: Reveals that she's been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, but also says that she intends to continue coaching.

March 26, 2012: In Summitt's final game as UT's coach, the team loses to eventual national champion Baylor in the regional final.

April 18, 2012: Announces she is stepping down as Tennessee's coach. Finishes with 1,098-208 career record



Career highlights / Hall of Fame coach revolutionized the women's game

1,098 Career wins, most in NCAA history

8 Division I championships: 1987,'89, '91, '96-98, 2007-08

7 NCAA coach of the year: 1983, '87, '89, '94-95, '98, 2004

.841 Career winning percentage

18 Final Four appearances