March Madness could have described Tyler Summitt’s past few weeks perfectly.
He could have found himself on the bench of some of college’s biggest powerhouse programs.
Roy Williams offered him a spot on his staff at North Carolina. Billy Donovan talked with him about joining the Gators program at the University of Florida.
Summit could have been celebrating a NCAA Championship today with Rick Pitino and the Louisville staff.
But that sort of Madness didn’t quite appeal to Summitt.
The son of legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, he knew these opportunities would be more about his last name than making a name for himself.
And a gig as a grad assistant at one of the premier NCAA men’s programs wasn’t exactly where he felt God was leading him.
“God gave me a passion to coach at a young age,” Summit said. “I considered coaching (men’s basketball). But I’ve always wanted to coach women.”
Perhaps it was all those endless hours hanging around Lady Vols practices, where Summitt would “take notes from my mom,” who just happens to hold the NCAA women’s basketball record for most career wins at 1,098.
Or maybe it was something more than that. Maybe something internally was driving him away from the men’s game.
“My last name is what it is,” said Summitt, 22, about some of the coaching opportunities he had after graduating in three years. “I called a lot of different schools but this really felt like the place God wanted me to be.”
That place was Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.
‘GOD OPENING THE DOOR’
Summitt’s first job as a full-fledged assistant coach didn’t come easy, but when it finally happened, he could sense the Lord's fingerprints all over it.
He had called about 50 women’s basketball programs looking for work. A walk-on men’s basketball player at Tennessee, it was his long association with the women’s game that garnered many returned calls.
Only most of them were a polite, “thanks but no thanks.”
Until that Wednesday that Marquette women’s head coach Terri Mitchell rang.
It started with the familiar tone. Not sure we have anything right now for you. Maybe some other time. We’ll keep you in mind.
But then, something happened.
“Just being professional, we talked,” Summitt said. “We started talking about leadership, coaching philosophy, X’s and O’s.”
And just like that, 45 minutes flew by.
Summitt had won coach Mitchell over.
“She said ‘Forget it, I’m flying you up for an interview,” Summitt recalls. Four days later, he was on a plane. “She flew me up and offered me a job on the spot.”
For Summitt, to earn a position on his own merit was God’s way of confirming his call up north.
“The one thing about coming to Marquette, it really was God opening the door,” he said. “I went from being Pat Summitt’s son and being rejected to being Tyler Summitt and being accepted.”
Traveling more than 600 miles away from the epicenter of his world may not have been Summitt’s first choice.
Born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., his blood is about as orange as humanly possible.
And the thought of moving so far away from his mother, who announced on April 12, 2012, that she was dealing with early-onset dementia at age 59 and would step down as head coach after nearly four decades.
“She’s doing really well,” Tyler said of his mother who has served as the Lady Vols head coach emeritus after stepping down. “She’s staying so active. Going to all the Tennessee women’s basketball practices. Being involved with her foundation. It’s really great to see how she’s still influencing others.”
Pat Summitt’s 2012 announcement came the same day that Tyler Summitt hiring was made public at Marquette. A bittersweet day, to say the least.
“We didn’t go a day without a Summit being in coaching,” he said. “It was a day that we celebrated her career and looked forward to my career and wherever God wanted to lead me. A lot of mixed emotions there.”
Just as there was about leaving Knoxville.
“I had to go all the way to Wisconsin to get away from my mom’s influence and go and spread my wings somewhere else,” he said. “But I think mom really wanted me to get outside of her influence.”
‘AN OPPORTUNITY TO SPREAD MY FAITH’
One influence Pat Summitt had on her son was the importance of a relationship with God and being faithful to a church that focuses on the Bible.
“She prays every morning. She reads her Bible every day,” he said. “We always went to church. And if someone asked her (if she’s a Christian) she would absolutely say yes.”
While Pat Summitt used her platform to help advance women’s sports, including her passion for Title IX, Tyler Summitt’s passion is more about sharing his faith whenever he can.
He uses social media as a way to share Christ, posting Scripture verses on Facebook and Twitter almost daily, including Psalm 25:4 on April 3.
“I’m very open with it,” Tyler Summitt said. “I feel God has given me an opportunity to spread my faith through coaching. If you study what Jesus wanted from us, I think it’s so important. But I will never force it on anyone.”
‘A GREAT EXPERIENCE’
The first year of coaching for Summitt at Marquette was as challenging as it was rewarding.
A couple of torn ACL’s snuffed out any early-season momentum, but a 4-1 finish led to a 16-16 record and an NIT berth.
Summitt also saw an expanding job description as the season progressed. Initially only in charge of the point guards, he worked with every position by year’s end, was calling the offensive plays from the sidelines and has taken a major role in recruiting.
“The main thing that surprised me is how much freedom our head coach Terri Mitchell gave us to coach,” Summitt said.
It also means a busy summer for Summitt, especially July when recruiting — and the frequent flyer miles — start rolling. During peak recruiting times Summitt has had a three-week stretch where he traveled from Milwaukee to Orlando to Las Vegas to South Carolina to Michigan to Ohio and back to Milwaukee.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said.
But nothing can top that day back in August, when he took his girlfriend, AnDe out for a familiar stroll in Knoxville.
Just another walk in the field — or so AnDe thought.
The couple stumbled upon a big family Bible that just happened to be lying in the field, inscribed with the words: “The Foundation of the Summitt Household” and “Mr. and Mrs. Summitt.”
Summit had set up a surprise proposal.
“She said, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Summitt, what’s this?” he said. “She turned around and I was on one knee.”