On Wednesday, Louisiana Tech introduced Tyler Summitt as its new women’s head basketball coach, tasking the 23-year-old with turning around a Lady Techsters program that has missed the NCAA tournament in each of the past three seasons, hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2004 and is coming off of a 12-20 finish that put the team near the bottom of Conference USA in its first year in the league.
Generally such an undertaking would be overwhelming for such a young coach in his first head gig, not to mention one with just two years of experience as an assistant coach. But Summitt, the son of legendary former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, doesn’t seem concerned, and when you come from coaching royalty — Pat won 1,098 games in 38 years in Knoxville and led the Lady Vols to eight national championships — maybe that confidence is justified.
Tyler Summitt talked with FOX Sports on Wednesday morning before his introduction at Louisiana Tech. He discussed everything from his experience at Marquette to his relationship with his Hall of Fame mom to his expectations on the court as he finally, officially, gets his chance to follow in Pat’s footsteps:
How much are you looking forward to your first head coaching job?
I’m very, very excited. My wife, AnDe, and I are incredibly excited to become a part of the Louisiana Tech family, and we couldn’t have asked for better hospitality. The people here are incredible and the people make the place, so it’s been great. I’m blessed to have the opportunity. We know this is God’s plan, and it’s great to be back in the South, that’s for sure.
What do you see when you look at your roster?
I think in terms of athleticism, we have strength and we will utilize that strength, whether it’s in transition or spreading out the defense on offense, or pressure man-to-man defense. I mean, we are going to utilize what strengths we have to hold our players accountable to be the best they can be.
What lessons from your two years as an assistant at Marquette do you think will carry over as a head coach?
Marquette was incredible, and (Marquette coach) Terri Mitchell gave me so much freedom and responsibility while I was there, and I got a lot of experience. I was a scouting coordinator and scouted over half of our games. I did the film sessions after every game. I was an offensive coordinator. I was an out-of-bounds coordinator, so I called every single play during every game. I was in charge of skill development for every position — forwards, guards, point guards, everything. In terms of recruiting I was in charge of 21 states including Minnesota, and we signed two 2014 recruits from North Tartan (High School) there, so it was a very exciting time, and I know AnDe and I will miss Marquette.
How do you respond to people who say you are too young or inexperienced to be a head coach or that you only got this job because of your name?
Well, I think I grew up with a head coach mentality, and it’s not just at Marquette. I think people look at my resume and only see Marquette, but what they need to realize is that I grew up as a student assistant for my mom, very heavily involved from 2007 to 2009. I spent a year (playing) under coach Bruce Pearl, a year under coach Cuonzo Martin, and that whole time it wasn’t like I was a player so much as I was a student assistant coach. I got to prepare scouting reports when I was with the men, so I think this entire time growing up it’s been a head coach mentality, and I’ve been preparing for this moment for a very long time.
And my mom taught me to have a thick skin. When I’m 60 and I get a head coaching job somewhere, people are still going to say it’s because of my last name. It doesn’t matter if I won national championships in the past, there is always going to be a critic behind the computer screen or on the phone who is going to say, ‘He’s not ready; this isn’t the right guy.’ And so, you know, for me, I don’t read any of the comments, any of the media — nothing. I’m trying to get my wife not to either. (The criticism) really doesn’t bother me, because there’s always going to be something. Right now it’s being 23, and 10 years from now it’s going to be something else.
How is your mom doing, and what does she think of your new job?
She’s doing very well. My dad, my mom, and my best friend, Adam, are all flying in for the press conference. I’m very excited to have them here. I know my mom and (longtime Louisiana Tech coach) Leon (Barmore) will be excited to reconnect. She knows that in high school, I started creating a filing system on my computer that I compiled leadership ideas, Xs and Os, team development ideas — everything you can think of from a head coach’s standpoint. She knows I’ll be putting that into place, and she’s excited for me.
Do you feel more pressure to succeed given your mom’s accomplishments as a coach, and how do you measure success, considering how successful she was?
I think you can view pressure as an enemy or an ally, and I see it as an ally. It’s a great motivation factor, and if my last name does bring pressure, that’s outstanding. I’m not promising I’ll get anywhere close to my mom’s accomplishments, but I’m going to do my best every single day, and that’s all I can do.
Something that I’ve learned, whether it was from my mom or from learning about Coach (Nick) Saban, Coach John Wooden, Pete Carroll, Billie Moore — one of my main mentors and my mom’s Olympic coach — is that it’s about the process. So we can look at the national championships, but at the end of the day, were your teams the best that they can be? And I think that’s the goal. There’s not a win number or a national championship behind it. It’s more of the process and the focus on being the best and doing things the right way every day.
In terms in results, we need to consistently compete for a Conference USA championship. And again, I can’t promise anything my first few years, but that is our goal in terms of conference — and we have a great conference. If we are competing for a championship here, that means that we have national recognition and that means we are most likely in the NCAA tournament. So I’m looking forward to being consistent there.
Your mom was 22 when she got the Tennessee job. Do you use her success at such a young age as a motivating factor for you?
The reality is, my mom tells me how much she was not ready at 22 and she had to learn on the fly. So, is that comforting? Absolutely. But I think my main confidence comes from God and knowing that this is his plan. I mean, my lord and savior Jesus Christ has a plan, and that’s where my confidence really does come from, honestly. Whenever I doubt myself, that’s where I look, and we all doubt ourselves. Again, I have an incredible support system between my wife, AnDe, my mom, my dad, my friends and my mentors. I’m incredibly thankful for everything that I have. So in terms of confidence, I think we will be good to go.
You mentioned all of the coaches you have worked with over the years, on both the men’s and women’s side. How did that help mold you as a coach?
I think each coach gave me something to add or adjust with my system that we will have here at Louisiana Tech. For example, Coach Pearl and his charisma and ability to get excitement and the strategies he used will be used here. Coach Martin and doing things the right way every single time will be used here. My mom and her consistent accountability and every single day is like it’s a championship day will be used. Terri Mitchell, the way she loves and cares about her players — that will be used here.
So I think that everybody has taught me something, and there are more people out there that I’m not naming that have taught me something. Billie Moore — I talk to Billie five times a week 30 minutes at least about anything in terms of basketball and leadership, and she taught my mom a lot of things. And so with her it’s having a championship mentality every day. So again, I named a lot of people and a lot of lessons, but I’m very fortunate to have them.