Bruce Pearl, Phillip Fulmer share love, respect of Pat Summitt

Bruce Pearl said he probably wouldn't have painted his chest orange on behalf of any other coach but former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt.

Phillip Fulmer said he never hesitated to ask Summitt to deliver motivational speeches to his team, and many of his coveted football recruits wanted to meet her on their official visits.

Both of the former UT coaches were quick to share their sentiments after learning on Wednesday that Summitt stepped down from her coaching post after 38 years, eight national championships and 1,098 victories. Summitt will accept a position as head coach emeritus, which will allow her to work with players in a non-coaching capacity.

"I'm sad that Coach Summitt is no longer going to be teaching basketball and contributing to the game as a head coach, because she was the very best that ever did,'' said Pearl, who shared the basketball facilities with Summitt for six seasons as men's coach 2005-11 before being dismissed as a result of an NCAA investigation.

"But I am thrilled that she's going to continue to lead in our athletic department,'' he said. "Her contributions are going to be invaluable.''

Summitt seemed to bring out the best in Pearl, and Pearl enjoyed bringing out the lighter side in Summitt.

Pearl, along with players from his team, painted his chest for a Lady Vols game against Duke on Jan. 23, 2007. About a month later, Summitt returned the supportive gesture in her own way, donning a cheerleader outfit and singing "Rocky Top" at a nationally televised men's game against Florida on March 2 with ESPN's Dick Vitale sitting courtside.

"Together, we took great pride that our basketball program at Tennessee was one of the best in the nation,'' Pearl said. "I used to like to comment that between us, we had nine national championships (Pearl won a Division II title at Southern Indiana in 1995).''

Pearl and Summitt often compared coaching notes, too.

"I remember Pat came up to me after one of our practices when we were working our fast break and looked me square in the eye and said, 'there was nothing fast about that break,' and she was right,'' Pearl said. "Then one time about four or five years ago, she had no point guard and was getting ready to play (Georgia coach) Andy (Landers) and she knew he would press them. She came to visit with me about a press breaker play for the game.''

Pearl's respect for Summitt led him to pull his players off "The Summitt" floor in Thompson-Boling Arena and move them into the practice facility on occasion.

"When our guys weren't practicing at a level of intensity or excellence, I took them off the floor,'' Pearl said. "I told them, 'You will not disgrace the game and play this way on Pat Summitt's court.' That's just the way it was.''

Fulmer, who coached the final three games of the 2008 season after being fired, didn't work in such close proximity to Summitt on a daily basis, but the two often worked together behind the scenes on UT athletic department issues.

"First and foremost, as a friend and as a mentor and someone I love and admire, I wish her great health,'' said Fulmer, who made a rare public appearance to support Summitt at Saturday's Knoxville Alzheimer's Walk.

"I was with Pat Saturday, and she has great energy and a great future to look forward to. I wish her well from a professional standpoint; the sport will be missing a great one.''

Fulmer, who spent 17 years alongside Summitt as a head coach in the UT program, said he couldn't overstate how much Summitt meant to the program during an era when Tennessee athletics dominated the collegiate landscape.

"It was extremely valuable to have Pat there, as she helped me and we absolutely supported each other in internal process as well as external matters,'' said Fulmer, who led UT football to the 1998 BCS national championship nine months after Summitt won her sixth national title.

"Coach Summitt spoke to my team from time to time, and I spoke to hers,'' Fulmer said. "It has always been a great and fun working relationship.''

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at

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Comments » 5

SummittsCourt writes:

Fulmer, Pearl and Summitt - there's 3 aces for you. In 4 short years they are all gone. Times are changing at UT.

BRUCEpart2 writes:

Say what you will about the two men in this piece, but Coach Bruce Pearl & Coach Philip Fulmer are two "class acts". How fortunate were we to have these 3 quintessential leaders guide & promote our major sports programs before certain "actions", "circumstance" & "life" predicated their departures. I for one, have been saddened by the loss of each one of them. I wish NOTHING but the best for all 3 of these "Vols for Life" going forward....!

etu_vol_fan writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Fulmer, Pearl and Summitt - there's 3 aces for you. In 4 short years they are all gone. Times are changing at UT.

It's a sad reality for sure. Pat, Pearl and Fulmer all gone in a 4 year span.

Jakevol writes:

Tennessee has a rich tradition in Sports. We will not roll over and go away. We will carry the torches forth and reclaim victories with our heads held high. There's been many coaches and players who have paved the way for this generation to move forward and never look back.

tovolny writes:

SPECIAL...?...YES, YES, YES. Summitt, "Head" and "Soul" is "ahead" and "beyond" what she was ever asked to do. 100% graduation is ahead and beyond other coaches. 8 National Championships is ahead and beyond other coaches. A GENUINE LOVE for her players, formal players, assistants is ahead and beyond other coaches. A GENUINE LOVE for her competition is only matched by the GENUINE LOVE her competition is now returning. It is GENUINE, a term not often associated with the coaching profession. GENUINE is ahead of authentic. GENUINE is beyond realistic. GENUINE is what Pat Summitt is. She has GENUINE respect for others. Others have GENUINE respect for her. She is SPECIAL because she is GENUINE. She is not PERFECT; that tag was only for The ONE. She is not PERFECT but close enough that most of us can't tell the difference.

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