SBJ/Feb. 3-9, 2014/Champions

Summitt: ‘Joan and I sharpened each other’

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Former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s. She spends most of her time raising money for her foundation to find a cure for the disease, and her appearances in public are typically limited to Lady Vols basketball games.

Through her spokeswoman, Summitt had this to say about her 30-year relationship and partnership with Cronan:

Cronan’s career was intertwined with that of basketball coach Pat Summitt, above. Below, they’re with former Texas coach Jody Conradt and former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist in 1999.
Photos: UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
“Joan Cronan is the consummate professional. To work with her was a coach’s dream! She gave me the reins to run my program — and if and when we had differing opinions — it never affected the mutual respect we had for each other. Over the years, Joan and I sharpened each other. Joan’s vision, passion, and tireless efforts to grow women’s athletics and to promote women’s opportunities made a huge difference for women in sports. I consider her a great friend, true champion, and very deserving of this very special honor!”

Back in the 1970s, Joan Cronan was a young administrator at the College of Charleston, where she was the women’s athletic director. Scattered across the state of South Carolina at the time were a who’s who of administrators and coaches who developed friendships that have lasted more than 40 years. Gene DeFilippo, former AD at Boston College, was at USC-Spartanburg. Lew Perkins, former AD at UConn and Kansas, was at USC-Aiken. North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was at Francis Marion.

“We all cut our teeth together,” DeFilippo said. “Joan became one of the great administrators in our business.”

Not long after Cronan arrived in Knoxville as the women’s athletic director, she visited a well-to-do Tennessee donor to see if he’d be willing to share that generosity with the women’s program.

“In the end, he said, ‘I will support you, Joan,’” Cronan remembered. “And then he pointed his finger at me and said, ‘But don’t you hurt my football team.’ My answer was, ‘It’s our football team, and if our football team succeeds, the rest of us can succeed, too.’”

That helps explain why Cronan rarely missed a football game, home or away.

SBJ Podcast:
College writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour introduce Joan Cronan as one of this year's Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business.


Cronan had the power not only to generate a fan base, but also to influence people outside of athletics. Michael Strickland, a Tennessee booster and board member at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, counts himself as one of those. As chairman of Bandit Lites, one of the world’s largest event lighting businesses, he has seen his company’s outlook change because of Cronan.

“We have guys travel all year to these concerts and other shows to set up the lighting,” Strickland said. “Up until 10 years ago, that was 99 percent male-dominated, for a lot of reasons. … Fast forward to today, my company has 40 percent female employees on the road. When we pick the crew for a show, we don’t look at anything but picking the best people available for that job. There isn’t a thought about she’s a she. …

“Joan cemented in my mind that people are people, and that’s how she views the world. She is an equal-opportunity giver, and she’s helped me become one.”

— Michael Smith

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