We knew since last summer when Pat Summitt announced she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, this was going to happen.

But the reaction is still unanimous: Just because we knew it was going to happen doesn’t make it any easier to handle.

Is anyone surprised Summitt stepped down as Tennessee head coach, and longtime assistant Holly Warlick is taking over head coaching duties? No. Especially since Warlick was the de facto coach this past year anyway, taking a larger role in practice, games and even postgame interviews.

But still, there’s that pit in our stomachs. The same one that was there when Summitt announced her diagnosis in August.

It’s the nausea associated with change, and the dizziness is only made worse with the fact that she’s all Tennessee has ever known for women’s basketball.

And it’s not like things change a whole lot from this season. Summitt is technically still on staff as “head coach emeritus,” meaning she’ll probably still be on the bench during games, be able to call recruits, etc. But it’s no longer her program, and we’ve never seen it any other way.

It’s bigger than your typical coaching change. It’s even bigger than when Phillip Fulmer was forced out.

This isn’t the end of a Lady Vols basketball era. Not a Tennessee era. Not even a women’s athletics era.

This is the end of an era in American sports. Period.

No one has ever done what Summitt did. No one will again.

Sure, I guess it’s possible that someone could win eight national championships, reach the 1,000-win mark, have two basketball courts named after them, and have a resume with enough conference titles to get its driver’s license.

But they won’t do it like Summitt.

On top of that, she pioneered the sport, and sports in general, for girls and women all over the country. When her name came up for legitimate men’s coaching jobs, it wasn’t in a sarcastic tone. She recruited the best athletes who also performed in the classroom, and she never wavered when it seemed as though everyone else did.

She mastered the tough love coaching strategy. She’d give that famously infamous stare, stomp her feet and scream at a player headed toward the bench in front of thousands of fans, and the players loved her more for it.

Now it’s Warlick’s turn, an opportunity she’s certainly earned. But boy, what a tough act to follow.