I had the opportunity before today’s game against Marquette to visit with Golden Eagles first-year assistant, Tyler Summitt, the son of the Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach of Tennessee.
Tyler Summitt, 22, was hired by Marquette in May, on the same day his mother stepped down as Lady Vols coach after spending the 2011-12 season balancing her job with her newly diagnosed illness – early stage dementia.
Tyler Summitt saw each of the 22 UConn-Tennessee games, from the time she was 5 years old, getting different perspectives as he was growing up. But Saturday was the first time he’d ever been on the opposite sideline, plotting against Geno Auriemma, his mother’s biggest rival during their careers.
“The UConn game was always circled on the schedule,” Tyler said of the UConn rivalry, which ended in 2007 when his mother decided she didn’t want to play the Huskies. “It’s an honor to play against Coach Auriemma. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him and his program. I hung out with his kids when I was growing up.
“I can’t remember missing any of the games. It was so much fun, preparing in the off-season you [Tennessee] preached UConn and Stanford. Those games were what you were looking forward to. You could feel the adrenaline and the passion when you walked into those arenas. That’s what I am preparing for as a coach. I want to be a part of that someday.”
Tyler’s father, R.B. Summitt, was with him Saturday. Tyler said his family noticed and appreciated the outpouring of support his mother received from Connecticut when she fell ill.
“One of the first things my mother will say about her Foundation [for the disease] was the Coach Auriemma was one of the first to write a check. There is a sports rivalry, but sports brings us together and can be used as a platform to get things done.”
Tyler said he knew he always wanted to be a coach.
“Other kids say they want to be a firefighter or a policeman., But my mom saw when I was in high school how committed I was and I want to coach women’s basketball,” he said. “I had the chance to talk to Coach Pitino [Louisville] and Coach Williams [North Carolina] about opportunities, but I discovered that I really enjoy the relationships on the women’s side.”
Tyler says his mother is doing well.
“She came here for three games with her Olympic coach, Billie Moore. She goes to every Lady Vols’ practice. She’ll make some trips, like to Vanderbilt, but it all depends on her schedule.
“My mom and Coach [Terri] Mitchell never talked about me working here. There were voice mails back and forth and Coach explained to me how many applications there were. But when she talked to me, I could begin to tell how interested she was. And then she flew me up for an interview.
The only question he really didn’t want to answer – and you can understand why – was whether the programs would ever play again. But it seems like Auriemma may want to get a copy of the book Pat Summitt is writing with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. It will be called “Sum It Up” and it is due out in the spring.
“Mom is going to have stuff in her book about the UConn rivalry. I will let her speak to that herself in the book. As for whether they will play again [to benefit the Foundation] Mom and Holly Warlick [the Tennessee coach] will discuss it. And Coach Auriemma has his own agenda for his program. It would be fun to watch them play, but with two great teams like this, it won’t be long before you see them in the tournament.
“I am so proud of my mother. I have learned so much from her. There was a time when my lullabies at night where listening to her yelling at the television [watching film]. At first [when breaking down film for him] she was talking French. But then I started to identify the same things she did.”