Women’s hoops assistant Tyler Summitt embraces famous name, follows own path
By Chris Jenkins
Photo courtesy of Marquette University Athletics
Regardless of what he achieves on his own, Tyler Summitt knows he’ll always be known as the son of a basketball coaching legend.
But Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in NCAA history, didn’t want anything handed to her son just because of his last name. So even as she dealt with health problems that led her to retire as the women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, she encouraged her son to follow his own path.
He ended up calling Marquette women’s basketball coach Terri Mitchell and eventually talked his way into a job as an assistant coach for the Golden Eagles this season.
“I think no matter what I do or where I go in women’s basketball, I will most likely always be known as Pat Summitt’s son,” he says. “And that’s totally fine. I’m very proud of her and just blessed to be her son. But it was a chance, going away, for me to kind of prove myself, I guess, and show that I could do my own thing.”
And although Tyler Summitt is enjoying his new role, his mother — and her fight against early onset dementia — is very much on his mind. They talk on the phone every day, and he sends her videos of the Golden Eagles’ games to review.
“She has a great circle of friends and family and the staff at Tennessee and everything, so many people are taking care of her,” he says. “And she said: ‘Look, I’m fine. You go away. You do your thing.’ And she’s very excited about me coaching.”
Pat Summitt will get to see her son coach in person on Saturday, December 15, when Marquette faces Toledo at the Al McGuire Center. The Golden Eagles are hosting “We Back Pat Night,” a fundraiser for the Pat Summitt Foundation and an opportunity to raise awareness for early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“She can have a huge impact on Alzheimer’s, just like she had a huge impact on women’s basketball,” he says.
Meanwhile, Tyler is growing into his role as an assistant on Mitchell’s staff — a role he had to talk his way into.
Though Pat Summitt left a voicemail for Mitchell, that was the extent of any lobbying she did on her son’s behalf. Tyler Summitt had to sell himself to a coach who already was far along in her search for a new assistant.
“And 45 minutes later, after talking about X's and O's and leadership and philosophy, she was flying me up for an interview a few days later,” Tyler Summitt says.
When he got the job and arrived on campus, he made his coaching philosophy clear to the players.
“I’m not your friend,” Summitt says. “I’m here to make you better. You won’t like me, but I don’t really care. And I believe that’s how it has to be.”
And if you think that sounds like a speech Pat Summitt might give to her players, you’re probably not too far off base.
“I think that’s just kind of what I learned from her — that it’s really hard to hold players accountable if you care whether they like you or not,” he says. “A coach is there to make them better players, better students and better people. That’s my first priority as a coach and as a leader for them.”