NEW: U.S. education secretary praises coach's "courageous role" in Alzheimer's fight
"The time has come to move into the future and step into a new role," Pat Summitt says
She will remain involved in mentoring players and recruiting, the university says
In August, Summitt revealed she had early-onset Alzheimer's
Eight months after revealing her diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s, the head coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team announced she was stepping down Wednesday.
Pat Summitt, who led the Lady Vols to eight national championships and whose 1,098 wins are the most in major-college basketball history, will remain involved in mentoring players and recruiting as the team’s head coach emeritus, the university said.
“I’ve loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role,” Summitt said in a statement released by the university.
Associate head coach Holly Warlick, an assistant on the team’s staff for 27 seasons, has been named Summitt’s successor, the university said.
“If anyone asks, you can find me observing practice or in my office,” the 60-year-old Summitt said. “Coaching is the great passion of my life, and the job to me has always been an opportunity to work with our student athletes and help them discover what they want. I will continue to make them my passion. I love our players and my fellow coaches, and that’s not going to change.”
Along with other university officials, Summitt is expected to speak to reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
In August, she said that her prediagnosis symptoms included asking her son the same question repeatedly, but said she intended to keep coaching.
As she headed into her 38th season with the team in November, she said she’d scaled back some of her workload, allowing assistant coaches to handle e-mails and other tasks.
“I wake up and I go and drink my coffee, and I do about 12 puzzles before I ever go into the office,” Summitt said at the time. “When I get there, my mind is sharp. And that’s important – very important.”
Summitt, long revered for her success, was widely praised for continuing to work. SI.com’s Kelli Anderson wrote that Summitt could add to her legacy by bringing attention to Alzheimer’s in the way other sports figures have done – Jim Valvano, Kay Yow and Lance Armstrong for cancer; Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson for HIV/AIDS.
After her announcement, the university’s athletic department began selling bright orange “We Back Pat” T-shirts, giving the proceeds to Alzheimer’s Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
School officials, former players and longtime rivals alike praised Summitt on Wednesday.
“It is extremely difficult to adequately express what Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, the sport of basketball and the growth of women’s athletics nationally,” University of Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart said. “She is an icon who does not view herself in that light, and her legacy is well-defined and everlasting. Just like there will never be another (UCLA men’s basketball coach) John Wooden, there will never be another Pat Summitt. I look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role. She is an inspiration to everyone.”
Beth Bass, CEO of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, noted that Summitt was a founding member of the group.
“When you think of women’s basketball, you think of Pat Summitt. She is the first female coach whose name literally has become synonymous with her sport. … All coaches of girls’ and women’s basketball have her to thank in large part for the success our game now enjoys,” Bass said in a statement.
Geno Auriemma, coach of the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team, said Summitt would “continue to make significant impacts” in her new role.
“Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did,” Auriemma said in a statement.
Summitt was 22 years old when she became the team’s head coach in 1974.
Under her leadership, Tennessee has been the only school to appear in all 32 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournaments since the tournament’s inception in 1982, the university said. The Lady Vols have earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament 21 times.
During the 2011-2012 season, Sports Illustrated named Summitt as Sportswoman of the Year, and the NCAA gave her the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award for her leadership in intercollegiate athletics.
“Her career is a powerful reminder that the job of the coach is not just to win games but to be a mentor and help develop the life skills of their players,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement Wednesday. “Now, as she moves on to continue her courageous role as a spokesperson in the fight against Alzheimer’s, I know she will continue to educate and teach so many of us once more.”
CNN’s Jason Hanna, Chuck Johnston and Sally Holland contributed to this report.