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Pat Summit says it was a 'privilege' to coach at Tennessee

APTOPIX Tennessee Sum_Pata.jpg

March 12, 2012: In this photo, Pat Summitt, speaks to a reporter at her home in Knoxville, Tenn.AP/Knoxville News Sentinel

A relaxed and smiling Pat Summitt said "it has been a privilege" to be the Tennessee women's basketball coach four nearly four decades.

The Hall of Fame coach Thursday addressed her decision to step aside during a press conference.

"I just felt like it was time for me to step down knowing that Holly (Warlick) was going to be in great hands," Summitt said of her replacement. "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."

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

She will assume a new role as head coach emeritus and 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.

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.

Yet Summitt's every move was studied to see how she felt, down to how many officials she yelled at or her icy glares at a player while overseeing a Division I program with a busy national travel schedule. After losing to eventual national champ Baylor in a regional final, Warlick's tears during the postgame news conference gave a glimpse of how exhausting the season had been and the possibility it was Summitt's last game.

Now Summitt can focus on her health and taking on duties that will keep her with the program she guided to eight national titles since taking over in 1974.

Summitt's new role will include helping with recruiting, watching practice, joining staff meetings, helping coaches analyze practice and games, and advising the Southeastern Conference on women's basketball issues and mentoring players. Summitt also will be working as a spokeswoman in the fight against Alzheimer's.

Summitt's final record stands at 1,098-208, 16 regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and 16 SEC tournament titles -- the last won a month ago. During her time, Tennessee never failed to reach the NCAA tournament, never received a seed lower than No. 5 and reached 18 Final Fours. Those Final Fours tie the UCLA and North Carolina men for the most all-time by a college basketball program, and she never had a season with a losing record.

"Pat started coaching at a young age and no one will ever pass her on anything that she has done," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "There may be coaches that have more national championships but there will never be anyone who has meant so much to women's basketball. Pat now moves to the next chapter of her life."

Every Lady Vol player who has completed her eligibility at Tennessee graduated under Summitt, and 74 former players, assistants, graduate assistants, team managers and directors of basketball operations are currently among the coaching ranks at every level of basketball.