Steve Megargee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.: Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who lifted the women’s game to national prominence during her 38-year career at Tennessee, died Tuesday. She was 64.

With an icy glare on the sidelines, Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight national championships and prominence on a campus steeped in the traditions of the football-rich south until she retired in 2012.

Her son, Tyler Summitt, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying his mother died peacefully at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most.

“Since 2011, my mother has battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced,” Tyler Summitt said. “Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.”

Six titles in 12 years

Summitt helped popularize women’s basketball as her Lady Vols dominated the sport in the late 1980s and 1990s, winning six titles in 12 years.

Tennessee — the only school she coached — won NCAA titles in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1996-98 and 2007-08. Summitt had a career record of 1,098-208 in 38 seasons, plus 18 NCAA Final Four appearances.

She announced in 2011 at age 59 that she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia. She coached one more season before stepping down.

At her retirement, Summitt’s eight national titles ranked behind the 10 won by former UCLA men’s coach John Wooden. UConn coach Geno Auriemma passed Summitt after she retired.

When she stepped down, Summitt called her coaching career a “great ride.”

White House reaction

President Barack Obama issued a statement in which he cited Summitt’s victories and championships while noting “her legacy, however, is measured much more by the generations of young women and men who admired Pat’s intense competitiveness and character, and as a result found in themselves the confidence to practice hard, play harder, and live with courage on and off the court.”

“Pat started playing college hoops before Title IX and started coaching before the NCAA recognized women’s basketball as a sport,” Obama said. “When she took the helm at Tennessee as a 22-year-old, she had to wash her players’ uniforms; by the time Pat stepped down as the Lady Vols’ head coach, her teams wore eight championship rings and had cut down nets in sold-out stadiums.”

Tough coach

Summitt was a tough taskmaster with a frosty glower that could strike the fear of failure in her players.

She punished one team that stayed up partying before an early morning practice by running them until they vomited.

She even placed garbage cans in the gym so they’d have somewhere to be sick.

Nevertheless, she enjoyed such an intimate relationship with her players that they called her “Pat.”

Summitt never had a losing record and her teams made the NCAA Tournament every season. She began her coaching career at Tennessee in the 1974-75 season, when her team finished 16-8.

With a 75-54 victory against Purdue on March 22, 2005, she earned her 880th victory, moving her past North Carolina’s Dean Smith as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history.

She earned her 1,000th career win with a 73-43 victory against Georgia on Feb. 5, 2009.

Summitt won 16 Southeastern Conference regular season titles, as well as 16 conference tournament titles. She was an eight-time SEC coach of the year and seven-time NCAA coach of the year. She also coached the U.S. women’s Olympic team to the 1984 gold medal.

In 2006, Tennessee made Summitt the first millionaire coach in women’s basketball with a contract paying $1.125 million.