By Kimberly Hood
Redshirt freshman Kelley Cain hit the nail on the head when she said she wasn't that surprised Pat Summitt got to 1,000 wins.
"She's Pat Summitt – success comes with the name," Cain said.
Success does come with the name. The beloved coach, known by most fans and all her players as just ‘Pat,' has won the hearts of Tennesseans, and has won just about everything else, too.
In the 35 years since she began coaching at Tennessee, the former Seymour resident has amassed enough championship rings to use them as brass knuckles, been to the Sweet 16 of every Women's NCAA tournament since it began 26 years ago, appeared in 16 Final Fours and been named National Coach of the Year 7 times and Naismith Coach of the Century.
Oh yeah, and she also has a tiny little thing called a gold medal for coaching the 1984 U.S. women to their first-ever Olympic championship.
Now, adding to that success, she will be remembered as the first coach in NCAA basketball history to reach 1,000 wins.
And despite what Summitt says about records being meant to be broken, it's very possible that by the time she retires, the bar will be set so high that no one will ever catch her.
Coach Bobby Knight, who recently retired from Texas Tech and holds the record for career wins in NCAA Div. I men's basketball, put the 1,000 wins into perspective when he interviewed Summitt on ESPN Gameday the Saturday before the game.
He explained it would take a coach getting 30 wins a season for 33 seasons to even get close to 1,000, let alone reach the mark that she will eventually set.
And just to further put that into perspective – a 30-win season is a very good season. The number of games in a season varies slightly between different teams and by how far they advance in tournament play, but on average, the two teams that advance all the way to the NCAA Championship only play 39 games or so.
Even Summitt herself was surprised by the lofty figures he presented.
"When he said that, I was like ‘wow!' I did not think that those would be the numbers. I think that's why a lot of people say no one is going to reach it, but there will be some people out there that will stay in it longer," Summitt said.
"You know, Coach Knight is thinking about getting back in the game. I know he's after my record now – you've got to watch out for Coach Knight!"
And as if reaching 1,000 wins in less than a lifetime was incredible enough, Summitt did it the hard way, playing ranked teams in more than 47 percent of those games.
Immediately after her 1,000th win, the university held a short ceremony to honor the coach.
After 1,000 wins and all the accolades she has achieved, it would probably be acceptable to take a little bit of the credit herself, but Summitt, in her usual fashion, instead thanked the fans and gave the credit to all the great players and coaches over the years that helped her achieve that historical milestone.
And while 1,000 wins is incredible, perhaps her biggest accomplishment yet is that there were more than 16,000 cheering fans in attendance – in the middle of the week no less, and more than 100 reporters present from media outlets from across the nation.
No longer is Summitt setting up chairs and sweeping the floors for a crowd of 53 spectators.
No longer are the female athletes selling doughnuts to buy uniforms or taking 15-passenger vans driven by coaches on away trips.
Women's basketball has come into its own, and Pat Summitt has led it all the way, quietly laying a foundation for an entire sport and inspiring countless young athletes and coaches along the way.
So someday, somewhere, a coach may break Summitt's records in women's basketball.
But if and when the day comes, that coach will have Summitt to thank, because the sport itself will be her ultimate legacy.
A league of her own
By Kimberly Hood