Friday, April 8, 2016
Why the news about Tyler Summitt is so profoundly disappointing
A few days after the national championship during a time when the WBB world should still be celebrating the accomplishments of UConn and the grit of Syracuse, we are reading about a coach resigning for having an inappropriate relationship with one of his players.
Nothing's worse than that in this sport, but here's why many in the WBB community are having a hard time coming to grips with the news. The coach is Tyler Summitt, boy wonder, son of Pat Summitt, who needs no description before her name.
More than a decade ago, I talked with Pat Summitt in her home and she opened up a pair of French doors that revealed to me her son's bedroom -- mural on the wall, king-sized bed, window overlooking a lake. Lucky kid, I thought. Both of us LadySwishers chatted with him when Tennessee was sent to Norfolk for NCAA first and second rounds, and he was a delight, answering questions repeatedly that he had probably been asked before.
The last time we saw him was after the Lady Techsters came to the Constant Center on Jan 7 and downed Old Dominion in a regular-season game. He didn't give an ordinary press conference afterward. The aplomb he showed as a 25-year-old coach was striking, made even more so by his addressing Louisiana Tech's role in the sport, noting the pioneer effort of the program, one he made a point of ensuring his own players recognized. When asked about his mom, he was glad to answer. It would be hard to make a better impression.
In fact, for most of Tyler's 25 years, he's done nothing outwardly wrong, being by his mother's side during the early days, graduating from Tennessee and earning the praise from his mother's peers who, no doubt, saw his potential. As an assistant at Marquette, he was lauded for a work ethic that earned him a head coaching job at 23. You figure he knew the scrutiny he'd be under, having to prove to others there was more to him than pedigree, but remember, this wasn't a kid who ran away from being Pat Summitt's son. He embraced the role and the spotlight that came with it, seemingly wise beyond his years. If you watched the interviews of Pat and Tyler about the dementia that changed her life, you walked away again impressed by his maturity.
As part of the WBB community, we've watched Tyler become a man and rooted for him just a little bit more because we are losing Pat. That's among the reasons this hurts so much. We had him slated as head coach at the University of Tennessee one day, but given the news of Thursday, that will never happen.
If you are a mother yourself, you want to shake him and shout, "What were you thinking?" While we might not like it, many men commit adultery. But he's a coach -- a mentor put in charge of young women, a role model, an ambassador of the sport who given his lineage, is unlike any other. Some have speculated that his youth was a red flag for his hiring, but we dispute that and any attempts at explaining this away. This isn't something young coaches do; this isn't something male coaches do; this is something he did. This is on him solely and while many might say he should have known better, we say he did know better. And it happened anyway.
Our feeling is profound disappointment, an emotion we imagine is magnified 100 times more in places like Knoxville and Ruston. The kid all of us watched grow turned into the man who screwed up. We live in a society where people mess up all the time and turn their lives around. We wish that for him, and especially his wife and the player involved.
We don't pretend to know how aware Pat Summitt is of the events of the last 24 hours. But for the first time since she was diagnosed, we hope this disease can be a shield, because as hard as we find this to stomach, we can't imagine what his mother would say.