Tyler Summitt was a big part of the women's basketball landscape since even before he was born. The story that his mother, longtime Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, went into labor while on a recruiting trip and insisted on flying home to have her baby in Knoxville is perhaps the most oft-told anecdote about the resolve of the legendary Hall of Fame coach.
Before he even celebrated his first birthday, Tyler was celebrating a national championship in the arms of his mom when the Lady Vols won it in 1991. For Tennessee's six NCAA titles that occurred during his lifetime, Tyler posing with Pat was a mandatory photo op. The esteem in which Tyler held his mom -- and vice versa -- was unquestioned.
People who follow women's basketball feel as if they watched him grow up. And now, everyone is watching his career and his reputation fall apart. It's painful to see.
Tyler Summitt resigned as head coach at Louisiana Tech on Thursday, citing an inappropriate relationship. Neither he nor the university has acknowledged with whom he had the relationship, but multiple sources have told espnW that it was with a Louisiana Tech player.
Friday, Louisiana Tech athletic director Tommy McClelland met with media to discuss the situation and what the school will do moving forward. In his opening statement to reporters, McClelland said, "Please understand that there are just certain things that I am not going to be able to say, as it gets into personnel and privacy issues. There will be questions that you want to ask that I just cannot answer."
McClelland was referring to the specifics of the relationship. But the question that no one has an answer for -- perhaps not even Summitt himself -- is how he could have made such a mistake.
Summitt always seemed committed to being Pat's "perfect" son, a chip off the old block, a young man with enormous pride in his mother's accomplishments. Especially after the August 2011 announcement of Pat's diagnosis of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, Tyler appeared to be on a superfast track to follow in Pat's career footsteps. Almost as if he, too, were in a race against time.
"If age wasn't an impediment to [Tyler] Summitt getting this job, then it can't be used an excuse for him losing it."
Pat became Tennessee's head coach at age 22 in 1974. That was a much different era, the very early days of women's collegiate athletics. Tyler was named Louisiana Tech's head coach at 23 in 2014. The truth is, that really angered many people in women's basketball who said he wasn't qualified and was getting the job on name alone.
Counting the AIAW as well as the NCAA era, Louisiana Tech has three national championships. But the program's last of 10 Final Four appearances was in 1999, and it hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2004. Louisiana Tech trusted Tyler with the responsibility of caring for its history while trying to spark its present.
Louisiana Tech believed in Summitt in part because he really did present himself well. His former boss at Marquette, Terri Mitchell, explained in 2012 -- when she hired him at age 21 to be an assistant -- that he seemed more like someone in his 30s.
"Hearing what he believes, his philosophies, his views on offense and defense -- his eagerness to do the job was just pouring out of him," Mitchell said four years ago.
No doubt, that's what Louisiana Tech saw in him, too. Plus, the once-great program knew that Summitt's hiring would draw media attention, and his name also might get a foot in the door with recruits.
The school saw bringing him on board despite his inexperience as a calculated risk. Louisiana Tech was willing to roll the dice on that.
Every time I interviewed him over the years -- starting when he was still in high school -- about his potential future in coaching, I came away impressed, too, with his passion for the sport and how polite and well-spoken he was. I'd bet most journalists had a very favorable impression of him.
But the biggest key to coaching is managing people, and that's something Summitt apparently wasn't prepared for. As a child, Summitt had been almost like a team mascot at Tennessee, and as he grew older, he was friends with his mother's players. But coaches need a very distinct separation from their players.
By the time Tyler entered the coaching world in 2012, Pat was already significantly changed because of her disease. Thus, the person who would have been the best and the most demanding professional mentor for him wasn't able to be that anymore.
However, if it sounds as if I am making excuses in any way for Tyler Summitt, I'm not. There is nothing unclear or difficult to discern about why his behavior was wrong. He shouldn't have needed guidance from anyone to avoid it. He was a married coach who regularly tweeted Bible verses and talked about the necessity of players having unassailable character to play for his team. He presented an image that he fell short of living up to.
Some might point to his age and say that's the biggest explanation for why this happened. But Summitt insisted when he was hired that he was ready, and that his age was irrelevant because of the lifelong experience he had watching his mom's teams. So if age wasn't an impediment to Summitt getting this job, then it can't be used an excuse for him losing it.
No doubt, he realizes with considerable anguish that what he has done affects so many people. His wife and family. The individual with whom he had the alleged relationship and whatever the consequences are for her. Louisiana Tech's other players and recruits, some of whom might transfer or change their plans to enroll. His staff, some of whom might need to find other jobs depending on who becomes the new head coach (Mickie DeMoss is serving in that role in the interim). The administrators at Louisiana Tech, who are dealing with the fallout and must re-evaluate everything with the program. And who now are being second-guessed for their decision to hire him.
"The biggest key to coaching is managing people, and that's something Summitt apparently wasn't prepared for."
Admittedly, people sometimes end up in relationships with athletes they coach or have coached. It happens with all sports, with men and women. The key is honesty and transparency, and sometimes it requires -- or should require -- the coach stepping down from his or her position to pursue or continue the relationship.
That's a complex topic that can be explored at length. But that discussion is irrelevant here, because, as mentioned, Tyler Summitt already was married. He knew he was under a microscope because of his name, and his youth as a head coach. The conduct expected of him was crystal clear.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Tyler, all others close to Pat Summitt and the Tennessee women's basketball community have been in varying degrees of sustained grief since it was revealed that she was battling this insidious, horrifically cruel illness.
It was natural that people would look to Tyler as a hope of continuing his mother's legacy on the sideline, whether that was realistic or not. Tyler himself wanted that. During what was, to say the least, an up-and-down past season for the Lady Vols, there were even fans who stated that they wanted Tyler "home" as soon as possible to work at Tennessee. He has always been loved there.
Now, Tyler's resignation under embarrassing and difficult circumstances is another blow to Lady Vol Nation. It likely wounds them in a deeper way, in fact, than it does the Louisiana Tech fan base, whose emotions are probably more disappointment and anger as their program -- which now must hire its fourth coach in the past decade -- is getting such negative publicity.
But that is the flip side to all the positive attention that came with the Summitt "brand" name.
What does Tyler Summitt do next? There are those who'll say he has no business in coaching and should find another profession. Others will say that, at age 25, his coaching career shouldn't be over, but he'll have to work very long and hard to re-establish his reputation and regain trust from those willing to give it. Which some people never will be.
Right now, coaching should be the last thing on his mind. His focus needs to be on those directly affected by his behavior and on figuring out how it came to this.