Summitt aims to turn around La. Tech

RUSTON, La. -- As the sun sets over northern Louisiana, a golden hue cascades through the windows of Memorial Gym. The building is from another era when basketball players wore Converse sneakers and women had sleeves on their jerseys. The second level still has wooden chairs, not bleachers. It's a true basketball gym and this is the place where Louisiana Tech women's basketball was born in 1974 under coach Sonja Hogg and later taken into the NCAA era and national stage by Leon Barmore.

But earlier this month, as the current team got in a final practice before its home opener of the 2014-15 season, it's clear the program is in the midst of a rebirth. And leading the charge is a first-year coach with a pedigree that's unmatched.

Tyler Summitt was introduced as the head coach of Louisiana Tech's women's basketball team April 2. From Day 1, he instituted team rules that extended far beyond the basketball court. His players aren't allowed to wear hats inside. No slouching, either. They must sit in the first three rows in their classes and they should always greet people with a firm handshake.

"To have a program, not just have a winning team, you've got to have the full spectrum of a team," Summitt said. "Everything you do matters in a program. And so we're trying to build that foundation and we're building it with details."

Details, he said, win championships, and it's something he learned from his mother, legendary Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt, who had similar off-the-court rules for her players.

"The No. 1 lesson I've learned from my mom is to always do things the right way," Summitt said. "Treat people the right way. Don't take shortcuts. Just outwork people."

Summitt has been preparing for his turn at being a college coach since he was in high school, a period that coincided with his mom capping a three-peat of national championships with the Lady Vols. He began taking notes on his mom and, when he walked onto the men's basketball team at Tennessee, he observed his coaches Bruce Pearl and Cuonzo Martin. By the time he graduated from Tennessee at the age of 21, Tyler Summitt had a detailed database of how he would run things.

He also made a decision. Although he played men's basketball, his heart was with the women's game.

"I was in the unique position to see the women's and men's side of things," he said. "When you can see the women's side and the relationships, that's what I want to be a part of."

After graduation, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach with Marquette's women's team before Louisiana Tech came calling, a school Summitt knew well.

"I grew up coming to Ruston, and circling Louisiana Tech on the schedule when I was with my mom at Tennessee," he said. "I just had a lot of respect for the tradition here, what women's basketball means to Ruston."

At Louisiana Tech, the only banners hanging from the rafters commemorate national championships and Final Four appearances. That still makes for quite a collection above the court at Thomas Assembly Center. During the 1980s and 1990s, La. Tech won three national titles and reached 13 Final Fours.

But in recent years, there were no banners to hang. The program hasn't made an NCAA tournament appearance since 2011, when the Lady Techsters lost in the first round.

To change that, Summitt turned to a trusted mentor for help, someone who sat next to his mother on the Tennessee bench for two decades: Mickie DeMoss.

DeMoss played on the inaugural team at La. Tech and Ruston is only an hour and a half away from her family in Louisiana, but the decision to take an associate head-coaching position alongside her former boss' son came down to love and loyalty.

"Pat was probably more of a yeller, maybe a little bit more emotional in practice and in games, where Tyler is more stoic and more matter-of-fact, but they still get their point across." Mickie DeMoss

"When this came along, I thought, 'This is bigger than a job,'" she explains. "The very dearest thing to Pat Summitt's heart is her son. This was a way that I felt like I could give back not only to Tyler, not only to Louisiana Tech, but really to Pat. Really to Pat."

The passion for the game is the same in mother and son, DeMoss said, although their coaching styles have a marked difference.

"Pat was probably more of a yeller, maybe a little bit more emotional in practice and in games, where Tyler is more stoic and more matter-of-fact," DeMoss said, "but they still get their point across."

It was a conscious decision on Tyler's part to not emulate his mother's famous -- or infamous -- fiery sideline demeanor.

"Back in the day, you could yell at a kid and they'd run through a brick wall just because you yelled at them," he said. "Today you can't do that. You've got to explain why. They'll fight for you if they know why."

The team is buying in.

"What I like most about Coach Summitt is he always asks us our opinion on things," senior guard Kelia Shelton said. "[He'll say], 'Well, what do you think would work right here?' He always gets the players' input."

Shelton came into her senior season not sure if she had a spot on the La. Tech team. She missed 27 games last season because of academic ineligibility, but Summitt assured her that, if she got her grades up and became a leader on the team, he would give her a scholarship.

"I learned from him early on that everything is earned," she said.

Through nine games this season, Shelton ranks second on the team with 12.7 points per game. She recognizes the extent of Summitt's impact on his players at La. Tech.

"Coach [Summitt] teaches family, accountability and things that we can attribute to our lives after we graduate," she said.

Because life doesn't end when a player or coach steps off the basketball court; the connections made there linger and last.

"To see a Candace Parker or a Kellie Jolly or a Michelle Marciniak call my mom and just catch up on the phone, it's pretty incredible," Summitt said. "At the end of the day, I don't think it's about championships or wins.

"All that's great, but it's about the relationships."