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Summitt says she was not forced out by Tennessee

October 5th, 2012 11:01 pm by STEVE MEGARGEE, AP Sports Writer

KNOXVILLE -- Pat Summitt said Friday it was her decision to step down as coach of the Tennessee women's basketball team and she never believed athletic director Dave Hart forced her out.


Summitt, 60, issued a statement in response to the "misunderstandings" created when she said in a signed affidavit released Wednesday that Hart told her she would not be returning, "a decision I would have liked to have made on my own."


Friday, Summitt said it actually was her call.


"It was entirely my decision to step down from my position as the head coach of women's basketball at the University of Tennessee," Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, said in the three-paragraph statement.


In the signed affidavit released Wednesday as part of former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings' lawsuit against Tennessee and Hart, Summitt said Hart told her at a March 14 meeting prior to the NCAA tournament that she would have to step down at the end of the season. Summitt said Hart later told her she'd misinterpreted his comments.


Friday's statement was more in line with what she had said in an April press conference to announce she would not be returning as the Lady Vols' coach.


"I did not then, and I do not now, feel that I was 'forced out' by the university," Summitt said. "Anyone who knows me knows that any such effort would be met with resistance. If my affidavit has caused confusion on that point, it needs to be dispelled."


David Burkhalter, the lawyer representing Jennings, didn't immediately respond to a message from the Associated Press.


Summitt, whose 1,098 career wins are the most in NCAA men's or women's basketball history, stepped down in April after a 38-year tenure at Tennessee that included eight national championships.


She remains on the Lady Vols' staff as head coach emeritus. Holly Warlick, who played for Summitt at Tennessee and served as an assistant on her staff for 27 years, was chosen as her successor.


"As I stated at my press conference in April when I announced my decision, I loved being the head coach for 38 years, but after consultation with my son, my doctors, my lawyer and several close friends, I concluded that the time had come to move into the future and step into a new role," Summitt said in the statement. "I have welcomed and enjoyed my new role as head coach emeritus, and I am excited for the opportunities that now await my dear friend and colleague Holly Warlick as head coach."


In the affidavit, Summitt indicated she was initially hurt by the comments Hart had made at the March 14 meeting. In the affidavit, Summitt said Hart told her she would be replaced by Warlick at the end of the season.


"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," Summitt said in the affidavit. "I felt this was wrong."


Summitt said in the affidavit that Hart later told her that she had misinterpreted what he had said.


The statement Summitt released Friday, however, indicates she never felt as though she was being forced to step down.


"In connection with my move from head coach to head coach emeritus, the university has treated me with the utmost respect and graciousness, as it always has throughout my tenure as head coach," Summitt said.


Jennings' lawsuit alleges that age and sex discrimination led to her forced retirement from the school where she had worked for 35 years. The suit was filed Sept. 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.


The suit also argued that Hart retaliated against Jennings when she protested that Summitt's early onset dementia protected her from losing her job under the Americans With Disabilities Act.


Jennings said in the original complaint that Summitt informed her of Hart's intentions after that March meeting. Jennings indicated in the suit that she sent a written protest to Hart asking him to reconsider, and that he sent her an angry email in response.


According to the suit, Hart spoke with Jennings at a May 15 meeting and gave her less than three hours to choose whether to resign, retire or be fired. The suit charges that she lost her job either due to her gender and age or out of retaliation for her advocacy of gender-equity issues, opposition to discrimination against female student-athletes and opposition to sex, disability or age discrimination.


Jennings was 57 years old when she left her job as the university worked toward consolidating the men's and women's athletic departments.

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