Say what you will about UT athletics, but this program sure knows how to pay tribute to its legends.
Big Orange never fails to give back to those great idols that have best represented the Volunteer community.
The latest effort was long overdue and came on Wednesday. Plans were announced for the Pat Summitt Plaza, which will serve as a permanent testament to the career of college basketball's greatest coach, according to a UT press release.
A tribute to Summitt's career will be built on the corner of Lake Loudoun Boulevard and Phillip Fulmer Way, right where fans will enter campus to attend a basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Included in the preliminary plans for the Pat Summitt Plaza is a bronze statue of Summitt, bringing to life the growing inevitability that the women's hoops great would be permanently represented on UT's campus.
"This is an exciting opportunity to honor, in perpetuity, the coach who is synonymous with the sport of women's basketball," Vice Chancellor and director of athletics Dave Hart said in the press release. "Generations to come will enjoy seeing this beautiful statue and plaza named for this exceptional leader, role model and the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history."
There's no doubting the fact that UT's program has struggled with commitment and consistency from their leaders. When Phillip Fulmer left in 2008, it was the beginning of a firestorm, and head coaches from both men's and women's athletics have since been replaced.
Amid controversy surrounding the departures of Lane Kiffin in his sneaky move to USC and Bruce Pearl in a sloppy NCAA investigation, Summitt has been a rock for the Volunteer athletics program.
Throughout Summitt's diagnosis with early-onset dementia, she's held the basketball program together at UT. The Lady Vols have finished in the top two of the SEC for 14 out of the last 15 seasons.
Summitt's royal treatment at Tennessee was questioned in mid-2012 in the months following her resignation as head coach.
In an affidavit filed in conjunction with a lawsuit filed by a former colleague against the university, Summitt claimed she was told by athletic director Hart that she would not return as coach after 38 seasons.
"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," Summitt said in the affidavit.
However, Summitt retracted those claims in October 2012, saying it was entirely her decision to step down and take the head coach emeritus role in a public statement.
Despite the story causing shock waves and attracting attention from national media, it became clear then that the relationship between the 61-year-old coach and the university wouldn't be damaged further.
In an era of Tennessee sports that has caused Vol fans to battle through their fair share of losing seasons, coaching changes and scandals, Summitt has been a continuous force of stability for the program even throughout her resignation. An ongoing Summitt scandal would've simply been too much for this program to handle.
UT has made their former players a point of emphasis in recent seasons with Vol For Life programs, and it's turned into a university-wide effort to bring back greats like Peyton Manning, Eric Berry and Johnny Majors on a regular basis. But that effort hasn't often stretched out to sports not played in 100,000 seat stadiums, until Wednesday when Summitt's tribute was announced.
Summitt's permanent statue that will be sitting just off the banks of the Tennessee River will only be further proof that the UT athletics program cares more about honoring their past than anything else.
Steven Cook is a rising senior in journalism and electronic media. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.