Pat Summitt's peers remember what made her a legend

Pat Summitt touched the lives of many (1:45)

Bruce Pearl, Kara Lawson, Peyton Manning, Kim Mulkey, Trey Wingo and Mechelle Voepel share their thoughts on the life and career of Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt, who died at 64. (1:45)

The breakthrough victory of Gail Goestenkors' coaching career came at the expense of a legend whose office she had once sat in, mute with admiration.

But even after Tennessee's devastating NCAA Elite Eight loss in 1999 to Duke that kept her program from a chance at a four-peat, coach Pat Summitt was thinking about the welfare of women's basketball.

Goestenkors' Blue Devils broke the Lady Vols' hearts that year, especially seniors Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly. But that meant Duke was really good. And Summitt always wanted to play any program that elevated itself to challenge Tennessee.

"So not long after that game, we got a call from Tennessee saying, 'We'd like to continue the series,'" Goestenkors said. "It was great for us. It was a sign of respect, really, if Tennessee wanted to play you.

"They were the gold standard. And that's all because of Pat. She made everybody better. You had to be better as a coach, as a recruiter, to try to catch up to her."

You will hear grand statements of praise about the impact of Summitt, who died Tuesday from the effects of Alzheimer's disease. And every one of them is deserved.

But there are so many specific stories about why her impact was so widespread and profound. "For the good of the game" wasn't a platitude for Summitt. It was the guiding principle of her 38-year career.

"She's the most respected coach this game has ever had," said Leon Barmore, who won two NCAA titles as coach at Louisiana Tech, one of Tennessee's longtime rivals. "The respect I have for her, you just can't imagine.

"She just did everything: not only coached but promoted the game. I asked her to introduce me at the Naismith Hall of Fame after I retired, and she flew up there and did that for me. I truly loved that lady."

Barmore recalled the 1990 Final Four in Knoxville, Tennessee, when his Louisiana Tech team made it, but the Lady Vols had lost in the Elite Eight. They weren't going to play in the biggest event on their home court. But Summitt -- three months pregnant with son Tyler at the time -- worked tirelessly in the days leading up to and during the event to promote it.

"I saw her everywhere she could be: on TV, on the radio, talking to fans," Barmore said. "I probably would have been up at the top row of the arena hiding if it would have been me."

Playing the best

Promoting women's basketball always had been Summitt's priority. Long before Tennessee's famed rivalry with UConn began in 1995, the Lady Vols had established series with fellow powerhouses such as Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech and Texas.

Former Longhorns coach Jody Conradt, also a Hall of Famer, first met Summitt at a basketball camp in North Carolina around 1974, when Summitt took over at Tennessee. Conradt at the time was coaching at UT Arlington, and when she got the job at Texas in 1976, she knew it was important to start a series with Tennessee. That began in 1978; to date, they've played 37 times, with the Lady Vols leading 23-14.

"Pat's teams were always competitive; they were always physical; they were always tough," Conradt said. "Having known what she was like as a player, I knew they were totally a reflection of her. During some of the times we played, it was hard to feel like there was a close friendship because we're all so competitive.

"But at the same time, there was this total commitment to growing women's basketball. So we said, 'Let's not get hung up on personal rivalries and what's good for one program. Let's sell all of it.'"

Tennessee and Texas were both huge universities, of course. And they had dynamic women in sports administration, too, such as Donna Lopiano at Texas and Joan Cronan at Tennessee.

"I would never be in the Naismith Hall of Fame without Pat. Because she gave us that big national-name team to play all those years. We may have helped her early on, but when you look at the overall picture, Pat and Tennessee helped make the Lady Techsters." Leon Barmore

Texas was the first of the two to win an NCAA title in women's hoops, doing so with an unbeaten record in 1986. Then Tennessee won the national championship in 1987. That set up a meeting in December 1987 between then-No. 1 Tennessee and No. 2 Texas at newly opened Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

Tennessee wanted to set a record for women's basketball attendance and promoted the game heavily with $1 tickets sponsored by Wendy's restaurants. But it was an even bigger success than anyone expected. So many people came that not everyone could get in, and the traffic snarled all streets leading to campus. Even Summitt got caught in the jam and finally had to park her car on the side of the road and walk a half-mile to the arena.

The final tally: 24,563 were in attendance, which set what was then the mark for the biggest crowd ever to see a women's game. Tennessee even had made a huge vinyl facsimile of a record -- like an album -- that was torn in half to symbolize "breaking the record."

Texas -- led by star Clarissa Davis' 45 points -- prevailed 97-78. Ever the competitor, Conradt took her team to Wendy's after the game for a celebratory meal. Ever the competitor, too, Summitt had the score of the game painted in 3-foot-high numbers in Tennessee's locker room to motivate the Lady Vols.

"The competitiveness, the preparation, the confidence that she instilled in her players were factors that played into them really stepping up in adversity," Conradt said. "Her teams had her personality."

She owned the room

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair recalls first meeting Summitt at a basketball camp. He was a high school coach in Dallas at the time and would go on to work at Louisiana Tech as an assistant before becoming a head coach at Stephen F. Austin, Arkansas and then Texas A&M.

"It was 1977, and I'd just won a state championship in Texas," Blair said. "I was working at a camp at Texas State and probably thinking I was somebody. But I knew Pat was somebody.

"After one of the sessions, we played a three-on-three game, and I had to guard Pat. She killed me. She'd throw an elbow here, a behind-the-back pass there. She just knew the game so well. It wasn't that she was the best player on the court; she was the best competitor. I learned a lesson right there."

"She made everybody else in that room seem important. ... She could hold the room without being the center of attention herself." Gary Blair describing Pat Summitt on the recruiting trail

At that camp, there was a high school freshman from West Virginia who came because she was in Texas visiting her uncle. It was the first any coach there had seen her, and she was better than the college players working the camp. Her name was Mary Ostrowski.

"I said to myself, 'I bet Pat remembers this kid and recruits her,'" Blair said. "She did, of course."

Ostrowski went on to get 1,729 points and 994 rebounds as an All-American at Tennessee, playing at two Final Fours. Blair, who had to recruit against Summitt for so many years, sometimes wonders how she ever lost a recruit.

"When Pat would come into a gym to recruit, she could hold the whole room," Blair said. "Because she made everybody else in that room seem important. Whether you were a high school coach or a hanger-on or a fan or a big shot.

"I would sit back and watch her -- how when her eyes focused on you, they were totally on you. It was just a strength. I said, 'Gosh, I want to be able to do that someday.' Not a lot of people can. She could hold the room without being the center of attention herself."

A natural bond

Barmore didn't always feel a close kinship with everyone in the women's game. But he and Summitt connected. He was from small-town Louisiana, and she was from small-town Tennessee. They understood each other.

"I had to work for everything," said Barmore, initially a walk-on at Louisiana Tech before he earned a scholarship. "I guess it was just our background, our upbringing -- yes, ma'am, no ma'am; yes sir, no sir -- that Pat and I shared. Those things were just rooted in both of us. I respected her work ethic and she respected mine."

Their rivalry as basketball programs was intense; they met in some of the biggest games in the 1970s, '80s and even '90s.

"Our paths just kept crossing for many years when it really meant something on a national scale," Barmore said. "I would never be in the Naismith Hall of Fame without Pat. Because she gave us that big national-name team to play all those years. We may have helped her early on, but when you look at the overall picture, Pat and Tennessee helped make the Lady Techsters."

Tennessee and Louisiana Tech had six matchups in the Final Four combined between the AIAW and the NCAA tournaments, three of them in the national championship game. Louisiana Tech won the first of those, in 1981. Tennessee won the other two, in 1987 -- the Lady Vols' first NCAA title -- and 1998.

"Early on, we had post players -- Pam Kelly, Janice Lawrence -- and were stronger and bigger than her inside," Barmore said. "She recognized that and went out and got post players. Then she turned the tables on us and started beating us.

"Defensively, both teams would get after it. Rebounding? I think of her eight national championships, I guarantee at least six of them were due to her team's ability to rebound on the offensive boards."

Even with the stakes as high as they were between the Lady Techsters and Lady Vols, no bad blood developed between the two coaches.

"It was the way she treated me personally," Barmore said. "Sue Gunter at Stephen F. Austin [and later LSU] and Pat were the two who always reached out to me. Pat made me feel good, made me feel important, made me feel I belonged in the game. I never forgot that."

So many lessons

Goestenkors was a generation younger than Summitt; she graduated from college in 1985 and became an assistant at Purdue in 1986. There, she worked for head coach Lin Dunn, who had preceded Summitt as a college player at UT Martin.

Goestenkors recalls visiting Tennessee with Dunn around 1987. Dunn, an old friend of Summitt's, sat down in her office and began to trade wisecracks with her. Goestenkors just listened, wide-eyed, hardly believing she was there.

"It was the way she treated me personally. ... Pat made me feel good, made me feel important, made me feel I belonged in the game. I never forgot that." Leon Barmore

"I felt like I was on hallowed ground," she said. "I was in awe of Pat and the Tennessee program. I was a listener. I thought, 'Someday, I want to be able to do some of the things she is doing right now. "

Goestenkors took over as head coach at Duke in 1992; at that point the program had been to the NCAA tournament just once. Under Goestenkors, the Blue Devils made the NCAA field 13 of her 15 seasons and advanced to the Final Four on four occasions.

The first time was 1999, after the aforementioned huge upset of Tennessee. The Lady Vols had won the previous three NCAA titles and were heavily favored for a fourth.

The Blue Devils had played Tennessee just once previously in program history: earlier that season in December on a neutral court in Orlando, Florida. The Lady Vols had won by 14 points, but Goestenkors said it could have been much, much worse.

"She called the dogs off; they were crushing us," she said. "She always had so much class, and she knew we were trying to grow our program. She didn't play her starters most of the second half. She knew if they blew us out, it wasn't good for the game."

It was one of countless examples of when Summitt saw the big picture. And even when the team that she had avoided crushing then came back and beat Tennessee three months later in an epic game, Summitt still held true to her guiding principle. She kept playing Duke. And she even counseled Goestenkors on how to deal with the different pressures of not being the underdog anymore, instead being the ones that others were trying to knock off.

"She didn't have to do a lot of the things she did," Goestenkors said. "I'd say, 'Why are you willing to play that team on the road?' Her response always was, 'Because it's good for the game.' Everything she did revolved around that. That's why she fought so hard to get games on TV and would play anybody, inside or outside.

"She was the one who pushed for more assistants, for better salaries, for budgets to be increased, for things to become more equitable. Her voice was the one you heard. She got women's basketball a seat at the table, but she didn't just bring her team with her. She brought everybody."