Gov. Bill Haslam has spoken to University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt about her illness, but the governor did not allow much detail about that conversation when asked.
Summitt, 59, announced on Aug. 23 that she has dementia, the type that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Haslam, a former mayor of Knoxville whose family has longstanding ties to the university, was asked this week if he had talked to Summitt.
“I have,” he said. “Pat’s incredible. She’s a friend. She literally is a legend. Who else, when they have an announcement like that, is on the front page of the New York Times? I think it’s because of who she is and what she’s done.”
Haslam learned the news about Summitt a day or two before the announcement, he said.
“I think all of us kind of caught our breath when we heard that,” he said. “I have full faith that she’ll do a great job coaching this year, and she’ll do that as long as she can.”
Haslam presented Summitt her award when she was inducted into the Tennessee Economic Council on Women’s Hall of Fame at a luncheon in Nashville in June.
The Lady Vols have won eight national championships under Summitt as well as 16 Southeastern Conference championships. Her record is 1,071-199. The university has established a Facebook page for the public to express its support for the coach. The school has also posted a video of Summitt expressing her thanks for the support.