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Barely a year older than some of her players in Knoxville, Summitt went to great lengths to keep her distance. In those days a Lady Vol's dance with her was much like her own with her father: One party so palpably wanted the authority figure's approval that the authority figure withheld it in the hope of getting even more in return. Looking back, she has said, "I built a wall of reserve and thought that reserve was the same as authority.... I was so busy being tough, I didn't understand the value of getting to know the players on a deeper level, their real strengths and vulnerabilities."
It took a dozen years for Summitt to realize she would get more from her players if she didn't browbeat and overcoach them. In 1986 she abandoned her half-court dogma and gave the Lady Vols more rein. She figured out how to frame criticism as a challenge, to bring out the competitor in each. She spared them the humiliating practices in unwashed game jerseys after they returned home from losses, and introduced the scrapbook sessions and personality profiling tool. In essence, she gave them less Tall Man and more Miss Hazel. Before her 1986--87 team, the so-called Cornfed Chicks, beat Louisiana Tech for the title, Summitt had each player lay her head on the center circle in an exercise of mental imaging. "Previously I'd felt like I was bluffing," she has said of her approach before that breakthrough. "I worked everybody so hard because I thought it would make up for my youth and deficiencies. [Now] I was secure in my abilities and I was secure in our players. I had developed relationships with them so I sensed what they needed."
Now a player could take to Pat (she discouraged them from calling her Coach) everything that might weigh on a college-age woman, from love interests and stalkers, to drinking problems, pregnancies and family dysfunction—which included, to a striking degree, the baggage so prevalent in her own life, father issues. "Her mother is very compassionate, so you can see how Pat can stretch both ways and adjust and reach out," says Shelley Sexton Collier, a captain of that first title team. "Over the years her relationships have gotten better and stronger. Having Tyler [in 1990] was another milestone and had a lot to do with her ability to relate to her players."
But the influence of her father, who died in 2005, endures. The gold rings Summitt wore on her right hand wound up flattened by the end of each season from the whacks she delivers to the floor in her coaching crouch. Every privilege is subject to withdrawal at any time; five players on her current team endured a nine-month exile from their locker room following the Lady Vols' first-round NCAA loss to Ball State in 2009. As Tennessee's rivalry with Connecticut heated up in recent years, and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma launched his verbal provocations, her assistants would suggest rejoinders. She'd have none of it: "If I'd say that, my daddy'd take me back behind the woodshed!"
"She's still more like her dad than her mom," says Billie Moore, who coached her on the 1976 Olympic team and remains a mentor and a friend. "She's demanding and strict, very much the taskmaster."
As Summitt has said, "When you give in to excessive emotion, you betray your weakness and vulnerability to others, and you cloud your thinking. It's like I tell our players when they get tearful on me: 'Hey, I'd like to cry sometimes too. You think I don't? But what would you do if you looked over at me on the bench and I was in tears?'"
Tall Man would hug his eldest daughter for the first time in 1996, when she was 43, after the Lady Vols won their fourth national title.
METAPHOR AND STORY
Mike Krzyzewski suspects that he suffered from some sort of learning disability as a child. It may have been attention deficit disorder—he couldn't do his homework without the TV or radio on—but in those days kids didn't get tested, least of all the son from a family of Polish immigrants at a Catholic school in Chicago. So he adapted and compensated, finding his way by watching and listening. Today he festoons his offices with photographs. He speaks in metaphor, dropping phrases like, "If you have a great painter, you don't ask him to paint fences" and "If you put a plant in a jar, it will grow to take the shape of the jar, but if you let it grow by itself, it may grow so 20 jars can't hold it." And he'll put together elaborate videos to make single points; the Blue Devils won their first two titles after point guard Bobby Hurley watched a taped montage of himself as a pouty, whiny freshman and soon transformed himself into an even-tempered floor leader. "I was never a great reader," Krzyzewski says. "Metaphors are my crutch for a limited vocabulary. I've always felt a kid needs to see things, not just hear them or read about them. People remember stories and examples better than words."
For someone who doesn't read, Krzyzewski coaches an awful lot like a creative writing instructor. Two weeks ago, before Duke played Kansas in the final of the Maui Invitational, Krzyzewski gave his inexperienced team a kind of grammar to moot the burden of conscientiousness he feared they'd feel. The shots presenting themselves that night, he told them, wouldn't be their shots. "I told them they were my shots, and that I wanted them to take them," he says. "That they should shoot whenever they felt a shot, and I'd live with the result. Young players, if they thought of shots in a big game as theirs, they might hold back."