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Tennessee should think out of box, hire Pat Summitt to coach men


This will not happen.

It will not happen because it makes too much sense.

It will not happen because it won't even be considered.

It will not happen because roles are roles, and in big-time college sports, roles are really roles.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Mike Hamilton, the University of Tennessee athletic director, will ask Pat Summitt to join him for lunch this afternoon. Maybe he'll broach the subject of the school's open men's basketball coaching position.

Maybe he'll urge her. Beg her. Plead with her. Offer it to her.

Ever since Bruce Pearl's dishonorable dismissal on Monday, talk in Knoxville has swirled around possible replacements. Colorado's Tad Boyle. Belmont's Rick Byrd. Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart. Marquette's Buzz Williams. The names are an empty-calorie collection of animated men in suits, pacing the sideline, barking out instructions, doing whatever it is coaches are supposed to do. They are, we have learned by now, a dime-a-dozen pack. Easy to find, easy to replace.

Wins come, losses come, "up-and-coming coaching genius" tags morph into Stan Heath and Seth Greenberg. Before Pearl there was Buzz Peterson. Before Peterson there was Jerry Green. Before Green there was Kevin O'Neill. They come, break out an orange tie, stand behind a podium, offer up deep-dish clichés about "the program" and "our student-athletes" and "commitment," then leave a trail of largely forgettable vapor in their wake.

I was a sportswriter based out of Tennessee for much of O'Neill's tenure, and of those years I recall, well, nothing.

Alas, I digress. When it comes to hiring college coaches, Hamilton is the Tiki Barber of Division I athletic directors. He holds a powerful position, is blessed with countless resources -- yet screws up time after time. In The Wacky World of Orange Zaniness, Hamilton will never be forgiven for replacing Phillip Fulmer with Lane Kiffin. He will never be forgiven for bringing in Pearl, who concealed his Kenneth Lay ethical compass behind a toothy smile and a Creamsicle blazer. The Vols have become something of a joke; a place for unworthy men to land prestigious positions.

This, however, can change.

Pat Summitt has said in the past that she has little interest in coaching the men's game. In 37 seasons leading the Lady Vols, she's gone 1,070-198, winning eight national championships and seven coach of the year awards. She is a legend. An icon. A beloved, respected, one-of-a-kind coach who lacks the irksome cockiness of a Geno Auriemma or the we-need-to-cheat-to-win philosophical outlook of Pearl and so many other college coaches. Players swear by her goodness, assistants swear by her smarts, rivals swear by her relentlessness. In nearly four decades on the job, she has served as the school's greatest spokeswoman.

She is the University of Tennessee.

Which is why, just maybe, this could work. If Hamilton has any hope of keeping his job, he needs the next hire to pay dividends. What greater statement can be made -- For the university's commitment to winning? For the university's commitment to diversity? For the university's commitment to open-mindedness? -- than tabbing Summitt, 59, to guide and repair the men's program?

That's how it must be phrased to Summitt, a loyal stalwart of the women's game but a seemingly more loyal lover of all things orange and white. You are the answer to our problems. You have a chance to save us. You have a chance to be the first. You have a chance to burnish your legacy in a way that lasts forever.

And we'll double your salary.