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Summitt: It has been a 'great ride' at Tennessee

By Teresa M. Walker

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 19 2012 1:05 p.m. MDT

Former Tennessee women's college basketball coach Pat Summitt appears at a news conference Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. Summitt said it's been a "great ride" and it is the right time for her to step down after coaching the Tennessee Lady Vols for nearly four decades.

Wade Payne, Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A relaxed and smiling Pat Summitt said it's been a "great ride" and it is the right time for her to step down after coaching the Tennessee Lady Vols for nearly four decades.

"It has been a privilege," the Hall of Fame coach said Thursday during a press conference. Summitt will become head coach emeritus and longtime assistant Holly Warlick has been promoted to replace her.

"I just felt like it was time for me to step down knowing that Holly was going to be in great hands," said Summitt, who revealed on Aug. 23 that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. "She's a great coach and you know I'm going to continue to support her. You know It's never a good time but you have to find the time that you think is the right time and that is now."

Summitt, who won more games than anyone else in NCAA college basketball during her 38 years at Tennessee, discussed the decision to step aside on the court named for her after her 1,000th win.

"It was really a great ride for me," Summitt said.

The ride on the coaching carousel may be over for Summitt, but there are other challenges and honors ahead.

The White House says later this year Summitt will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

President Barack Obama said Summitt is an "inspiration" as the coach who has won more games than anyone else in NCAA college basketball history and for her willingness to "speak so openly and courageously about her battle with Alzheimer's."

"Obviously, I didn't see it coming, but that's a tremendous honor," Summitt said of the Medal of Freedom honor.

In her new role at Tennessee, Summitt will report to athletic director Dave Hart.

"I made a choice early in my career to challenge myself to step up my game each and every day," Summitt said. "You can be sure I will take this same attitude into my new role as head coach emeritus and continue to teach our players the same commitment. I can promise you ladies I'm here for you. Trust me that that will happen."

The 59-year-old coach revealed Aug. 23 that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Warlick, Summitt's longtime assistant, has been promoted to replace her.

During the press conference, Summitt called Warlick over and handed her a whistle.

"It is now time to turn over my whistle to you," said Summitt, who hugged Warlick and the crowed gave them a standing ovation.

"I know this works because I've heard it a lot of times," Warlick said, referring to the whistle.

Warlick isn't the only coach on the move. Tyler Summitt, Pat's son, will be an assistant women's coach at Marquette.

"This was her decision and I think that she took time after the season, thought about everything and the thing my mom's always taught me is to put the team before yourself," Tyler Summitt said. "She really felt like this was the best thing for the Lady Vol program. She's still going to be in a mentoring role."

Also on hand for the news conference were Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley and men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.

Summitt tried to show people that it was possible to function even in the face of dementia and Alzheimer's. She had the blessing of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek to keep coaching.

She delegated duties to Warlick, the associate head coach who directed the Lady Vols during games and addressed reporters postgame with other assistants taking on much more of the workload in an emotionally draining season that felt like a farewell tour it wound up being.

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