Charlotte 49ers athletics director Judy Rose lost a friend and one-time mentor when former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt died Tuesday.
In 1974, Summitt, then in her first season as the Lady Vols’ coach, gave Rose her first coaching job, even though the two were still graduate students who had only just recently been introduced.
“We didn’t know each other, so she took a great leap of faith in hiring me,” said Rose, who joined Summitt’s staff with another grad student by the name of Sylvia Hatchell.
Their time together lasted just that one season. Rose was hired as Charlotte’s coach in 1976 and has remained at the school ever since. Hatchell took a similar position at Francis Marion (S.C.), then went on to become coach at North Carolina.
In the years that followed, Summitt, Rose and Hatchell remained close. After the 25th anniversary of their first season together, the trio (along with another former graduate student named Susan Phillips, who is no longer involved in athletics), began gathering every summer for reunions in North Carolina or Tennessee.
“It was so important to us to all keep in touch,” said Rose. “And Pat was also a great Southern cook, so she loved having everybody around her in the kitchen.”
Rose kept in contact with Summitt over the years in other ways. During her time as the 49ers’ coach and later as athletics director, she would often run into Summitt while scouting players in high school gyms.
“The best thing about Pat is she wanted to mentor younger people coming up,” Rose said. “We’d go into these hot gyms, and Pat would always go up to a young assistant coach sitting in the stands, put her arm around her and say, ‘If I can ever help you with anything, you let me know.’
“Pat wasn’t in a silo. She wasn’t always about that steely, glassy stare that she was so famous for. She wanted to make the game better; make us better.”
The last time Rose saw Summitt was at the 2015 Conference USA basketball tournament, where Summit’s son Tyler was coaching Louisiana Tech’s women’s team. Rose said Summitt didn’t recognize her because of the early onset dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s that would take her life a year later.
“She smiled and said hey,” said Rose.
But in 2014, Rose, Hatchell and Phillips had driven to Knoxville to visit Summitt, knowing it would likely be the final time the four of them would all be together.
“She knew who we were,” said Rose.
Rose has been in Indianapolis this week, attending meetings for the NCAA’s men’s basketball oversight committee. The room in which the group has been meeting is named in honor of former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden and Summitt.
Rose said that on one wall is Wooden’s famous “Pyramid of Success.” Inscribed on the other wall is a quote from Summitt:
“I love teaching the game of basketball and the life skills associated with it. The gym is my classroom.”