STARKVILLE, Miss. — Tyler Summitt stares through his wire-rimmed glasses at a recent Louisiana Tech women’s basketball practice, watching with intensity as his players sprint, shift and shout instructions to each other during a drill emphasizing zone defense.
He sees something he doesn’t like and a shrill whistle pierces the air.
Then the 24-year-old Summitt, son of Hall of Famer Pat Summitt, gets into a defensive stance and begins his lecture. For associate head coach Mickie DeMoss — who spent two decades as an assistant at Tennessee on Tyler’s mom’s staff — watching it is strange juxtaposition.
The laser-like focus reminds her of Pat. The measured tone in his message does not.
“This is killing us,” Summitt said firmly but quietly. “You’re here and we need you right over here. Don’t sink back. Pay attention to the details. It matters. Does that make sense?”
Summitt is trying to prove what does make sense is Louisiana Tech hiring a 23-year-old to revive a once-proud program.
His family pedigree is unquestioned, but there was some shock that a program with the tradition of Louisiana Tech would hire Pat’s son, who just turned 24 in September.
“Seeing [Summitt] on the court has only reaffirmed what we liked about him when we made the hire,” Louisiana Tech athletic director Tommy McClelland said. “It’s really a tough brand of basketball, he expects a lot from his players and he holds them accountable.”
McClelland said the program’s season-ticket base has nearly doubled — up to about 700 — since Summitt’s arrival. The Lady Techsters have a 4-5 record after losing to Utah on Saturday.
Pat Summitt has been watching from afar.
She attended Tyler’s home-opening victory against Loyola (La.) on Dec. 7 in Ruston, Louisiana, but usually watches Louisiana Tech’s games on the internet.
— Tyler Summitt
“Tyler started helping me coach when he was about 5 years old,” Pat Summitt, who won 1,098 games and eight national championships with the Lady Volunteers, said in an email response through her foundation. “Seriously, the gym is such a natural place for us to be, it just feels like we’ve switched seats.”
Tyler and DeMoss said Pat Summitt still lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is doing well, staying busy with hobbies after her coaching career was shortened by early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Tyler Summitt isn’t quite as emotional on the sidelines as his mom, though he believes that’s more of a generational shift in coaching philosophy than a difference in personality. One thing that the two definitely share: An affinity for long hours and constant film study.
“I thought it was completely normal to climb into bed with my laptop at 2 a.m. and spend another hour dissecting film,” Summitt said laughing. “Then I got married and my wife assured me that it wasn’t normal at all.”
He and his mother also share a commitment to defense. Summitt didn’t allow a basketball on the court during the preseason until the third practice, and then only after pleading from the assistant coaches.
“I had to practically beg him to do it,” DeMoss said laughing.
DeMoss was Tyler’s first recruiting coup. He convinced the 59-year-old DeMoss to leave her job in the WNBA as an assistant coach for the Indiana Fever and join his staff as the associate head coach.
Mississippi State veteran coach Vic Schaefer said it might prove to be Summitt’s best move.
“The thing that impresses me about Tyler is he’s smart enough to know he can’t do it by himself,” Schaefer said. “He went and got Mickie DeMoss as his associate head coach who has been in it as long as I have. She’s been through the wars. She’s won championships. She’s got credibility.”
Said DeMoss: “It was an indirect way of helping Pat through Tyler. … But if I thought he was your typical 24-year-old, there is no way I would have taken this job.”
Louisiana Tech senior Whitney Frazier said the team benefits from the duo’s leadership.
Frazier, stunned and initially skeptical of Summitt’s hiring, said Tyler’s mix of confidence, knowledge and optimism quickly won the team over at his first meeting with players.
“I totally forget that he’s basically our age,” Frazier said.
|Building his own Legacy|
|Nov. 15||Stephen F. Austin||W, 76-69|
|Nov. 18||Northwestern||L, 69-57|
|Nov. 22||Louisiana-Lafayette||L, 58-55|
|Nov. 29||Alabama A&M||W, 70-68|
|Dec. 3||LSU||L, 73-59|
|Dec. 7||Loyola (La.)||W, 75-61|
|Dec. 11||Mississippi State||L, 81-77|
|Dec. 15||Nicholls State||W, 80-62|
|Dec. 20||Utah||L, 67-52|
She added that DeMoss “helps him and has a big role, but there’s no doubt he’s the head coach.”
Summitt said Louisiana Tech, with its tradition, is the ideal place to start his career.
The Lady Techsters made 13 Final Four appearances throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. But the program has slowly slid into anonymity during the past decade — former coach Teresa Witherspoon was fired last April after back-to-back losing seasons.
“The best thing is I don’t have to build this from the ground up,” said Summitt, who spent two seasons as an assistant at Marquette. “We have lots of fans. We have the boosters. We have everything you need to be successful.”
And DeMoss believes Summitt has all the necessities to get it done.
“The only thing he is lacking is hardcore experience,” DeMoss said. “Just being there, done that, I made a mistake, I’m not going to do that again. I think that hopefully my job here is to help him avoid some of those bumps that I hit and his mom hit.”
Despite DeMoss’ assists, dealing with college players can age any coach in a hurry.
Frazier, the Louisiana Tech senior, said before a recent practice when Summitt was deep in thought, she told him that he was already starting to look older.
Summitt, recalling the story, said with a grin: “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”