Why in God’s name did Pat Summit wear Green when her Tennessee team played the Fighting Irish last night?
The Tennessee women’s basketball team had beaten Notre Dame twenty straight times. In fact, historically, Notre Dame had never beaten Tennessee until last night. That, by itself, is an amazing statistic. An odds maker would have said that Notre Dame was way overdue to beat Tennessee – statistically, that is.
Tennessee, player for player, had been the better of the two teams for the entire year.
Connecticut had beaten Notre Dame three times this year and most basketball fans expected that Tennessee would probably beat UCONN if they met them in the final four. So, based on those sets of comparisons, everyone expected Tennessee to blow out Notre Dame. I just did not agree with that logic. I picked Notre Dame to beat Tennessee in a pre-tournament challenge sponsored by Lowe’s. Notre Dame was a second seed but I saw how they fought UCONN in all three games and I knew they were capable of battling Tennessee. Notre Dame has four or five players on the bench who could start on many Division I teams and I thought that fact would be the tie-breaker.
In the team meeting before the game Pat Summit talked about all the green emblems that the Irish would bring to the game – the Leprechaun, the four leaf clover, the green hats, etc. She discounted all that and told her players to just play their game and they would prevail. At that same meeting, she reminded them of just how good they were and if they just played their game they would win. All you saw on their young faces were wide smiles and they were whooping it up and sharing high fives.
So, what happened to Tennessee, beyond Pat deciding to wear green during the game?
Pat Summitt made a bad-coaching decision after Meighan Simmons, her star freshman, got her second foul. Pat has this inflexible rule that when you get your second foul in the first half, you will sit on the bench until the second half starts – no matter what, no matter who you are playing, no matter the score – a ridiculous rule to say the least. Flexibility is one of the most important qualities of a good coach and Pat Summit lacks that attribute.
Meighan was, and is, an integral part of the starting team – to take her out completely for an extended period of time changes the complexion of the team. I could see taking her out for a few minutes and coaching her to be more careful and remind her how much she is needed on the court.
Needless to say, Pat’s strategy backfired and Notre Dame continued to battle Tennessee and earn a halftime lead, even though Tennessee made a dramatic 3-point shot with seconds remaining in the first half.
During the previous game’s halftime, Pat yelled “You’re playing like you all don’t want to be here and you look like you don’t want to be here and you better come out of this locker room with a big time attitude”. She scared a better perfomance out of them that game but all that yelling does not work all the time.
During this halftime, Pat chided her players – putting them down for lack of energy, desire, etc. The players were humiliated enough by the score but to be bombarded with all the negative rhetoric was unnecessary. Megan Simmons returned in the second half and went from cold to ice. She could have reminded them of all their successes during the year and encourage them to go out their and play their best and using “sugar” like that might have taken them to victory – instead of that her “vinegar” approach added to the team’s demise.
The game ended with Notre Dame defeating Tennessee by double-digits, the third straight year for Tennessee not getting to the final four and losing by double-digits in all three of those tournaments.
Pat Summit, in a after game interview, expressed disappointment in her players and said that she was embarrassed by their play and the University was embarrassed as was everyone else associated with the program.
Players come and go but generally the coaching staff remains the same – unless the Athletic Director decides to replace the head coach. I am not suggesting that Pat should be replaced, but she is the one common denominator over the past three years – the one person who was there for each season ending loss.
Pat Summit could have at least shouldered some of the blame. Her hard and fast rules, such as her 2-foul rule attributed to the loss – even though she does not see it that way.
Statistically, Pat Summit is the winningest coach in college basketball – men’s or women’s, but that statistic by itself does not mean that only the players should absorb the burden of a loss when one occurs.
If Patt Summit cannot acknowledge her partial blame for each of the three end-of-season tailspins, someone else should be put in charge – and sooner rather than later. I am not saying that she has to go but I am saying that she has to improve her mentoring skills if Tennessee is going to rise to the top of the NCAA again.
But the bottom line is this: anyone daring enough to wear green when playing Notre Dame is messing not only with Notre Dame but with Irish traditions as well. Pat thought she could neutralize the green effect by wearing green but it backfired and she is now green with envy and not ivy.