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‘She Literally is a Legend’: Haslam on UT Coach Pat Summitt

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.

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UT’s Coach Summitt Honored by Haslam, TN Women’s Group

Gov. Bill Haslam wore an orange tie Friday, and his orange ties showed as he presented an award to University of Tennessee women’s basketball Coach Pat Summitt, inducting Summitt into the Tennessee Economic Council on Women‘s Hall of Fame.

The honor put Summitt in elite company as only the third inductee, following Jane Eskind, the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee, and Martha Craig “Cissy” Daughtrey, a senior judge on the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals. Eskind was an activist for the Tennessee League of Women’s Voters and won a seat on the state Public Service Commission in 1980.

Summitt has won 1,037 games and eight NCAA championships as head coach of the Lady Vols.

Haslam said Summitt is a model for excelling.

“If Pat were a CEO, she would be a great one. If she were a school principal, her school would be the best one in the district. If she were a lawyer, she would be arguing before the Supreme Court,” he said.

“If she were running for governor, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

Haslam, former mayor of Knoxville, noted that every player who has finished at the program has graduated, that you never hear about a player for Summitt getting into trouble and that every player for Summitt talks about their playing career as being a formative experience in their lives.

“Would that all of college athletics were like that,” he said.

“It is an honor for me to play a role in recognizing Pat. There are a lot of great Tennesseans, but as governor I can’t think of anybody I am more proud of than Pat Summitt.”

Joan Cronan, women’s athletic director at the school, told a story of how the Lady Vols were playing in the Southeastern Conference tournament in Nashville last season and didn’t play well in the first half of a game. At halftime, Cronan invited Haslam to go to the locker room with her. He said sure. Summitt was intense. Cronan and Haslam were standing against the wall in the back of the locker room. Summitt stopped and asked, “Governor, what do you have to say to these girls?”

According to Cronan, Haslam said, “Ladies, the economy is not real good in Nashville right now. There are 9,000 people in orange out there. Please play well.”

First Lady Crissy Haslam also attended the luncheon at the Airport Marriott in Nashville.

“The Haslam family has been so wonderful to all of us,” Summitt said before the event. “And to have the governor here today, and for him to take time out of his busy schedule and come to this event … but that’s the Haslam family.”

Summitt made special note of the governor’s father, James Haslam II, founder of Pilot Corp. and long-time benefactor of the University of Tennessee.

“Big Jim, he and Natalie, they have done such a great job with that family,” she said. “They’re all grounded. They all have focus. They all have purpose, and they all love the University of Tennessee.”

Summitt, who played at Cheatham County Central High School and UT-Martin, seemed overwhelmed at the prestige of the honor.

“I had no idea how big this event was going to be. It just touches your heart, when all those people from Ashland City, Cheatham County, show up and I’m looking around thinking, ‘I’m not believing this,'” Summitt said.

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