Pat’s Summitt’s four-decade coaching career will long stand as one of the University of Tennessee’s greatest athletic achievements. Her heroes include some of the greatest athletes and coaches of the modern era and many will gather to honor her in a public memorial later next month.
Whenever Peyton Manning would talk about Pat Summitt, he’d inevitably close out his last thought on the matter with the same idea.
And it routinely went something like, “I always felt like she was one of my coaches” — a thought that transcended gender and was rooted simply in athletics and success, as well as the relationship between coaches and players.
Summitt died early Tuesday morning at 64, nearly five years after making public her diagnosis of early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Manning, who retired from the NFL earlier this year shortly after the Denver Broncos‘ win in Super Bowl 50, paid tribute to Summitt once again on Tuesday. He made an early-morning appearance on SportsCenter and later issued a statement.
In it, Manning, who attended the University of Tennessee where Summitt led the Volunteers to eight national titles in women’s basketball and went 1,098-208 in 38 seasons, lauded Summitt for her friendship and support.
Manning added that Summitt was one of the people he consulted when he was trying to decide whether to return for his senior season with the Volunteers. Manning ultimately did return to play as a senior before he was the No. 1 pick of the 1998 NFL draft.
Manning’s statement read:
“I’ve always been honored to call Pat Summitt my friend. She was always very supportive of my career and I enjoyed seeing her back at a Tennessee football game or when she would come to Indianapolis to see Tamika Catchings play. We would always get together and I made it a point when I came to Knoxville to visit with her.
“She was one of the people I consulted with following my junior year when I was deciding whether to turn pro early or stay in college. She gave me some very valuable advice during that time. My teammates and I went to a lot of Lady Vols games when we were in school and I really enjoyed watching her teams play.
“I just always appreciated Pat’s friendship and support. I was always impressed with how all of her former players spoke about her. You speak to people like Tamika Catchings or Chamique Holdsclaw and they just talk about the role that Pat played in all their lives on and off the court. You can just tell the impact that she had on those players.
“It would have been a great experience to play for her. She could have coached any team, any sport, men’s or women’s. It wouldn’t have mattered because Pat could flat out coach. I will miss her dearly and I am honored to call her my friend. My thoughts and prayers are with Tyler and their entire family.”
This article originally appeared at ESPN.