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Summitt says she was not forced out by Tennessee
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“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 said in a three-paragraph statement in response to the “misunderstandings” created by her comments in a signed affidavit that was released Wednesday.
Summitt said she wanted to clarify her comments in the affidavit.
“I did not then, and I do not now, feel that I was `forced out’ by the university,” said Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. “Anyone who knows me knows that any such effort would have met with resistance. If my affidavit has caused confusion on that point, it needs to be dispelled.”
In the affidavit that was part of a lawsuit filed by the former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings against the university and Hart, Summitt said the AD told her on March 14 that her she would not be returning _ “a decision I would have liked to have made on my own.” Summitt also said in the affidavit that Hart later told her she’d misinterpreted his comments.
Friday’s statement was in line with what Summitt had said when she announced she would not be returning as the Lady Vols coach.
“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.”
David Burkhalter, the lawyer representing Jennings, said the complaint never states that Summitt was forced out. He noted, however, that it does say that Summitt approached Jennings and discussed a March 14 conversation with Hart that indicated she wouldn’t be returning as coach after the 2011-12 season _ and that Summitt was upset by the conversation.
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.
“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 Friday she does not feel betrayed by Tennessee.
“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.
In the lawsuit, Jennings says Summitt informed her of Hart’s intentions after that March meeting. The suit states Jennings sent a written protest to Hart asking him to reconsider, and that he sent her an angry email in response.
“As the complaint alleges, Debby approached him in good faith and said you need to be aware of this because this is what she’s saying, and if it’s true, please reconsider because it’s discriminatory and wrong,” Burkhalter said. “As a result, he got very angry at her. She was fired a couple of months later and that was a factor.”
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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