Summitt's sales job pays off

By Mechelle Voepel
ESPNET SportsZone


MARCH 31, 1997

CINCINNATI -- OK, we're not going to break any new ground about Pat Summitt. You already know everything. She's the best coach, her staff is great, she gets the most out of her players, she's the ultimate competitor.

All of that is true. But there's something else about the woman whose Tennessee program won its fifth NCAA title Sunday with a 68-59 victory over Old Dominion.

Summitt sells women's basketball better than anyone. She's the sport's most high-profile coach, and she's a genius at public and media relations.

Summitt gives funny, thoughtful answers to reporters. She looks you in the eye when she does it. She's heard so many of these questions 10 zillion times, but she never acts like that.

You call Tennessee and ask for an interview, and somebody will set it up for you. They'll tell you a time, and Summitt will be there. She'll give you great quotes. And it doesn't matter if you're a media somebody or a media nobody. Summitt and Tennessee understand that selling women's hoops is a job that never ends.

The program at Tennessee is business-like and efficient. Much like Summitt's teams. There is a right way to do things, and that's the way they're done at Tennessee.

Summitt doesn't always have the most talent. She always has a lot, but you look at the team she has this season and can see some holes.

The system is so superior, though, that the holes matter less at Tennessee than anywhere else.

Summitt understands chemistry. She knows which players have the desire and the thick skin and enough of a positive ego to respond well to her coaching style. Which kids won't wilt or whine or walk out.

Yes, she'll scream at them. But players don't complain; they know what she's doing. They came to Tennessee to be yelled at by Summitt. That's part of their college experience.

Summitt was asked how long she wanted to continue coaching. She gave no firm answer, except that as long as she was happy and successful she would stay.

"But the day I don't think I'm helping the program, I'll leave,'' she said.

That day will never happen. Oh, sure, some day Summitt will leave, but never because she's not helping the program.

Summitt will stick around a long time because she really likes what she's doing. That's part of why her answers are so good and her eyes meet yours and she looks so strong and self-confident.

She loves her job -- every aspect of it.

She has built a machine that runs almost flawlessly when it really needs to. You probably saw Tennessee in at least one of its 10 losses this season not playing very well. But you never saw anything but efficiency at NCAA Tournament time.

"When it's March, Pat turns into a monster,'' Vols senior Abby Conklin said, but with admiration. "She pushes us and screams at us, she works us hard.

"But I told some of the younger players, 'Look, if there's a way to get a championship out of us, that woman will do it.' ''

She did it again.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star writes a regular women's basketball column for ESPNET SportsZone. Her e-mail address is