PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'Pat XO': The All-Time Winningest Coach in NCAA Basketball History

Pictured in scratchy-seeming, anti-slick, internally framed clips, the interviews here create a sense of the subjects' personal experiences with coach Pat Summitt.

Pat XO

Director: Nancy Stern Winters, Lisa Lax
Cast: Tyler Summitt, Pat Summitt, Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, Michelle Marciniak, Geno Auriemma, Peyton Manning, Kenny Chesney
Rated: NR
Studio: ESPN Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-07-09 (ESPN)
"If I aint happy, nobody's happy."

-- Pat Summitt

"The whole state of Tennessee is counting on you. Have you looked at the orange in this building?" Pat Summitt is standing in her Lady Vols' locker room, her players about to take the court in Thompson-Boling Arena. Framed from the back of the room, the shot situates the coach front and utter center, as she makes sure that her team, seated in rows and leaning forward as she speaks, understands the pressure of expectations and is ready to meet them.

The image is striking and iconic, like so many images of Pat Summitt, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history. But while you're reminded of the University of Tennessee coach's legacy by the film Pat XO, its focus is less her work as a coach than her multiple impacts as a person. Directed by Nancy Stern Winters and Lisa Lax and premiering 9 July as part of EPSN's "Nine for IX" documentary series, Pat XO opens with narration by Pat's son Tyler, who suggests that what follows will be a collection of impressions, some from people who know her well, including 18-year assistant coach Mickie DeMoss, who offers, "Every day we went into practice like we were playing a national championship that day," or, "Pat was the queen of multi-tasking: if she didn't have at least five things going on at one time, she wasn't busy." Other observers include people who don't know her well at all, but bring their own legendary weight, like, say, Peyton Manning, who pops in for a moment to assert, "I'd like to play for her in some capacity, just to see what she's like inside the locker room."

Manning's aspiration leads to a shot of Pat in a locker room with a pen and paper, insisting to a clutch of players, "I don't know about y'all, but I want to go out an win a national championship." On this cue, which might have occurred on any number of like occasions, the team members jump up and agree, "I want to win a national championship!" The idea, summarized so briefly here, is the film's fundamental argument, namely, Pat is awesome in every way.

Selected instances of her awesomeness do provide a story arc of sorts, as well as a familiar sort of mythic structure, from humble origins to mega stardom. Pictured in scratchy-seeming, anti-slick, internally framed clips, the interviews create a sense of the subjects' personal experiences with the coach, however contrived and however briefly noted. A couple of these reflections, near film's end, focus on speakers' respect for how she's handling her 2011 diagnosis with early-onset dementia. It's a terrifying next step for the coach, and Pat XO structures it as another instance of her courage.

That said, the movie doesn't spend much time on the diagnosis, only notes it and gives Jenkins and a couple of other interviewees brief moments to respond to it. Their stoicism appears to mirror hers, as the film spends most of its time on anecdotes rather than details. Friends and family recall that Patricia Sue Head was born in 1952 and raised in Clarksville, Tennessee, did chores on her family's dairy and tobacco farm before and after school, and played basketball with her brothers. But no one dwells on her childhood, only uses images from it to lead to the Lady Vols. Her sister Linda Ateberry reveals -- no surprise -- that Pat was bossy as a child, and their brother Charles says both their parents were "real strict on us." Sally Jenkins adds that he was "complicated not easy," as well as "a deeply good man," illustrated by the fact that in the 1960s, "He moved his entire family across the state so his daughter could play basketball like her brothers" (that is, in Henrietta, which had a women's high school team).

Jenkins here sets up the context for Summitt's career and even her mission going forward, that women's basketball -- or more generally, women's sports -- was hardly a priority at high schools or colleges before the era Summitt helped to shape. As a player, you hear repeatedly, Summitt was "very aggressive and very intense," and moreover, she was inclined to coach, to motivate her teammates and also to "hold them accountable."

Summitt explains her approach, at this point in the film and a few others appearing on a couch with Tyler; they leaf through a book of photographs, most of which you don't see. Tyler tells part of his mom's story (when she was "my age," she took the job coaching the Lady Vols, for just $250 a month, driving the team bus and washing their uniforms), and she fills in occasionally with comments on other comments, voicing her own memories or reflections. She was skinny as a child, she says, which is why they called her "Bonehead." Her fist practice for the Lady Vols was tough "because I wanted it to be tough." Tyler recalls -- and photos illustrate -- that he was at practices and games from the time he was a baby, and various generations of Lady Vols embraced him, making him something like an honorary team member.

In all its forms, that team looms, winning lots of games (1098) and multiple national championships (eight), producing college graduates (all 161 Lady Vols), 45 college coaches, from Kellie Harper to Gwen Jackson and Tyler Summitt (now an assistant at Marquette), and WNBA stars like Tamika Catchings and Chamique Holdsclaw. Some of this success is a function of Summitt's relentless energy (former Auburn and 2000 Olympics coach Nell Fortner acts out her memory of finding Pat on the phone in her kitchen, dinner cooking while she contended with three or four callers, as well as her guest, Nell) as well as Summitt's formidable reputation as recruiter, summed up here by Michelle Marciniak and her parents (who recall how pregnant Summitt was when she arrived at their home).

As famous as Summitt's fortitude may be, a couple of memories ensure your appreciation: a few players describe "the stare," for which Summitt is renowned (Holdsclaw says, "It's just rips through your soul," and Jill Rankin adds, "You might just as well die before I shoot these darts through you"), and other interviewees affirm her life lessons: Jenkins remembers, "You don't play the victim, there are no excuses in Pat Summitt's world, none," by way of a story about her support of Patricia Roberts, in 1976 the only black player on the Lady Vols. When she responded with a gesture to racist taunts from Ole Miss fans, Summitt benched her but, Roberts says now, she also told her, "'You can go out there and be the player I know you can be… or you can go out there and sulk and be mad, and not play. It's up to you.' That's all she had to say."

This belief, that success is "up to" individuals, however gifted or encouraged, troubled or constrained by circumstances, has no end of adherents in sports. The film makes the case that Pat Summitt helped girls and young women to share in this belief, by building a dynasty and dealing daily with individuals.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.