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Did Dave Hart Force Pat Summitt Out?

I have very few heroes.

Pat Summitt is one of them.

For the past 38 years, she’s represented the University of Tennessee and her sport as well as anyone could ever possibly hope to represent anything. Better, in fact, because even the most optimistic of hopes can only be so high.

Her tenure is filled with unparalleled achievements. The NCAA record 1098 victories. The 16 SEC banners. The 16 SEC tournament championships. The eight national titles. The eight SEC Coach of the Year awards. The seven NCAA Coach of the Year awards. The gold metal for leading the 1984 US women’s team to victory in LA. They all serve notice as to why she’s not only the face of her sport, but why, in fact, she’s transcended it altogether.

No one has ever had a greater impact on anything than Pat Summitt has had on women’s basketball. Her fingerprints are all over the sport at every level, from youth leagues all the way up to the WNBA, which likely wouldn’t even exist without her.

Great coaches have have coaching trees, right? Well Pat’s got a coaching forest for crying out loud. And she’s responsible for every bit of life in the ecosystem therein.

But even as she transcended her sport, her modesty prohibited her from ever transcending her school. It was always the passion that drove her — never the power. And though I’ve appreciated her my entire life, I’ve never appreciated her more than I have in the past eight years or so. Because through all the adversity and instability UT’s experienced as a whole, there was always Pat to lean on. Our rock. Our stability.

Our coach.

It was for all those reasons and many, many more that the news of her battle with early-onset dementia left me devastated. Ironic, I thought, that this woman who is the very epitome of dignity could be dealt the disease that robbed its victims of just that.

I’m certain I wasn’t the only Vol who had tears in his eyes as he watched the stoic Summitt shake hands with Baylor coach Kim Mulkey at the end of what proved to be her final game. I rewound the DVR time and time again to make certain I’d seen what I thought I had.

And I did. No question.

Mulkey, pulling away from their embrace, overcome with emotion and teary-eyed, herself, looked Pat right in the eye and said “I love you.”

Who doesn’t? I thought.

How I hoped she’d be well enough to coach another year. To make another run. To get her 1,100th W and many, many more.  Only if she were well enough, though. And I had great confidence in our coach, along with her inner circle, to make the right decision.

Which is why my heart sank when I learned of the contention made in a recent lawsuit filed against the University of Tennessee and UT athletic director Dave Hart that Summit and her inner circle had not been the ones to make that decision. That Hart had it for them. This according to Debbie Jennings, the longtime athletic department employee whose 35-year run at the school came to an end this past May.

Her lawsuit is filled with numerous allegations of egregious discrimination perpetrated by Hart and the athletic department he oversees. One of the most shocking involves the Director of Communication opening for which Jennings had expressed interest. Her supervisor, Chris Fuller, stated that she should not apply for the position (for which she was well qualified) because, according to Fuller, football coach Derek Dooley didn’t want to work with a female. (If true, wonder what Mommy would say, Double D?)

And while that’s obviously quite shocking, indeed, it doesn’t hold a candle to Jennings’ assertion of the meeting that took place between Hart and Summitt on March 14 in which the AD allegedly told the coach that he’d decided Holly Warlick, not she, would be the one to lead the 2012-13 Lady Vols. Jennings learned of the meeting from Summitt, herself, and in response, Jennings penned a respectful email to Hart requesting that he reconsider his stance. He replied by categorize Jennings’ communique as “so inaccurate, on so many levels, that it does not warrant a meaningful response.” Jennings believes that it was this exchange which served as the act of insubordination which prompted Hart to give her an ultimatum on May 15 which resulted in her forced resignation.

I’m going to pause here to say what you already know. A discrimination lawsuit involving several well known and high ranking officials is the very last thing in the world the University of Tennessee needs right now. Which is precisely why I had hoped the entire lawsuit was groundless, particularly the part about Hart forcing Summitt out.

UT’s official response to that very allegation came from spokesperson Margie Nicols who categorized it as “absolutely not true,” adding “It was Pat’s idea to become the Head Coach Emeritus. I think she made that really clear at her press conference earlier this year.”

But on Wednesday, Jennings amended her lawsuit with a document that included a sworn affidavit from Summitt which corroborates Jennings’ account of her March 14 meeting with Hart.

A portion of Summitt’s affidavit reads:

“During this one-on-one meeting, Dave Hart indicated to me that I would not be coaching the Lady Vol basketball team in the next school year (2012-13) and he planned to name Holly Warlick as the head coach. Dave Hart told me I would still have an office in Thompson-Bowling arena and my title could be Head Coach Emeritus. This was very surprising to me and very hurtful, as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my doctors, colleagues and friends and not be told this by Mr. Hart. I felt this was wrong. Following the conversation with Mr. Hart, I was very upset and… I told several people about Mr. Hart’s decision, including Debbie Jennings. Unbeknownst to the individuals (with whom) I shared this upsetting news, Dave Hart spoke to me again, subsequent to the March 14 2012, one-on-one meeting and indicated that I misinterpreted what he said.”

I’ve not read the entire lawsuit to which this affidavit is a part, though I have skimmed enough to know that I need to read the entire lawsuit. (Which is why I’ve printed it off and plan on reading it tonight. If you want to do the same, click HERE.) But I have read enough to know that this will be crippling to UT from a public relations perspective. Now that the presidential-debate news cycle is over, this thing’s popping up everywhere, like in the AJC, The Chicago Tribune and USA Today which ran the salacious headline Summitt: Tennessee AD told me I wouldn’t be back.

I’m left with several thoughts:

First, if even half of Jennings’ allegations are true, we’ve not only got an incredibly flawed and antiquated athletic department, but we also have some of the most stupid people imaginable calling the shots. Calling the shots, that is, while doing their best Archie Bunker impersonations.

Second, it’s clear that one of UT’s most revered and beloved figures of all times has been compelled to choose a side in the Jennings vs. UT / Dave Hart mess. And with Summitt’s sworn affidavit, it’s clear which one she’s chosen. (Hint: Debby Jennings’.)

In the affidavit, Summitt never recants her version of the March 14 meeting with Hart. She never says “I misunderstood,” instead that Hart told her she’d “misinterpreted” him.

In the affidavit, she also praises Jennings for the vital and decades-long role she played in the Lady Vols’ remarkable success and clearly states that she didn’t agree with the resignation Hart forced upon her.

But there’s more. She also states that Hart told her in February that as part of the consolidation of athletic departments, he planned to eliminate the Lady Vol logo and instead use the power T to represent all sports, including Lady Vol basketball. “I was angered,” she writes in the affidavit, “when he came out in an interview with the media in May 2012 and denied that he ever intended to do away with the Lady Vol logo.”

These are not the words of someone backing the AD of the school she loves. These are the words of someone who’s got her friend and former colleague’s back. And I, for one, don’t think she’d be doing such were it not the right thing to do.

But third — assuming Pat Summitt really did “misinterpret” what Dave Hart said in their March 14 meeting, serious questions remain. Like how do you let Pat Summitt walk out of your office thinking you’ve just let her go? I mean, how are you not aware that she’s thinking that? How do you not go to the nth degree to make certain you got your message across? And what was the actual message, anyway — the one which got confused for you showing a legend the door?

I’m a big due process guy. And I suspect there’s a lot more to this story. So I’ll be patient and let the legal system do its thing and see how this whole deal plays out, hoping all the while that it’s not as bad as it seems.

But no matter what — even if Hart and UT’s athletic department proves that the insensitive and discriminatory behavior of which they’re accused is all just one big misunderstanding — I’m still profoundly disappointed in the leadership at the University of Tennessee. Because at the end of the day, they’ve left one of their school’s —  one of their state’s — most beloved and respected figures no choice but to publicly speak against the university she’s proven for the past 38 years to love above all else.

And nobody — NOBODY — should do a legend like that. Particularly one who has so many bigger fish to fry.

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facebook comments:

  • Janice

    How dare they do that to her, her family, a million fans. Hart Sucks

    • admin

      Janice — regardless of where the truth in all these allegations lie — the fact that they let it come to this and forced her into the horrible situation of having to issue such an affidavit in inexcusable. thank you so much for your comment — i hope you’ll come back!

  • Patrick (yeah, that one)

    If all that is said in this article is true, the whole situation begs for a lot of firings in the AD. How incomprehensible if they have treated the Queen of Tennessee (and doesn’t Pat Summitt deserve that title?) in such a cavalier fashion; no one should have taken the step to rob her of her dignity before there was no other option. She handles the situation with class, as one would expect, but one of the all-time heroes of women’s sports deserves better than this. Shame on UT and the AD.

    • admin

      it’ll be interesting to see what comes out — here’s the deal, though, i’m quite confident that Summitt would have reached the best decision. the right decision. regardless — she earned the right to decide when the right time was. one thing’s for certain — she sure thought that Dave Hart made the decision. what’s not as clear is whether or not she buys his insistence that she “misinterpreted” what he said. i sense she doesn’t or her affidavit wouldn’t have been so pointed. either way, what grace and class she and her camp have exhibited in keeping mum about the word. i love Pat Summitt. i’ll never, ever, ever not. whether you care for her sport is immaterial. she’s everything one could possibly want in an ambassador for the university of tennessee. and then some. thanks for reading.

  • BigFishAl

    Best yet…

    • admin

      thank you, BFA. i love pat. period.

  • B.A.

    Thanks for this post. I had not heard all this yet, but absolutely agree with what you’ve said.

    • admin

      B.A. thank you for reading. and, seriously, you should click on the link and skim the lawsuit, or click on some of the hyperlinks to the USA today/chicago tribune piece, etc…b/c this whole deal is a real shame.

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