Does the coach make the sports movie? It might not seem that way at first glance. Did you care who played Dan Devine in Rudy? Absolutely not, but you can’t overlook the importance of casting the right coach. The biggest role I see the coaches playing is adding authenticity to the movie. Sports movies are often a bit over the top, but it’s the coaches who often keep them grounded a bit with some realism, even if it is a bit exaggerated and cliché heavy. Of the alternate Final Fours I did this year, this was the most difficult to trim down to the finalists. There are so many to choose from, good and bad…
It’s amazing how many decent actors are terrible at portraying coaches. James Caan in The Program, Nolte in Blue Chips is hysterically awful, and of course, Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday was terrible in my opinion. I know everyone loves that speech, which I also think is overrated, but that movie was 150 minutes of torture. It gave the world its last taste of Bill Bellamy, but other than that it was useless.
Moving on, here are some movie coaches who received consideration. This is the heavily populated honorable mention section.
–Rodney Dangerfield as “Chester Lee,” in Ladybugs. This was a very important film for the teenagers of the 90s.
–Billy Bob Thornton as “Gary Gaines,” in Friday Night Lights. Thornton gets a tough break here, because his two roles were made more memorable by other actors.
–Chevy Chase as “Ty Webb,” in Caddyshack. The original sports psychologist.
–Tom Hanks as “Jimmy Dugan” in A League of Their Own. Through the bluster and booze a keen baseball man.
–Pat Morita and Marting Kove as “Mr. Miyagi and Sensei Kreese,” in the Karate Kid. Two close calls. John Kreese is the best coaching villain of all-time.
–Kurt Russell as “Herb Brooks,” in Miracle. It was just nice to see Kurt Russell in a decent movie again. It’d been a long time since Overboard. By all accounts Russell was uncanny in his portrayal of Brooks, but this is the ultimate team/underdog movie, coach gets too overshadowed.
OK, some others I’ll leave out and we’ll see if we get any nominations. On to the Final Four.
4. Walter Matthau as “Morris Buttermaker,” in the Original Bad News Bears.
Wouldn’t it nice to go back to a time when you could make a movie about a drunk Little League coach whose team included Tanner Boyle, one of the great youth bigots in history? Just slap a PG on that bad boy and bring the whole family! We won’t get into the absolutely ludicrous plot of any of the Bad News Bears movies at this time, instead focusing on Matthau’s performance as the ultimate broken down Big Leaguer. Matthau sets the template for most of the great baseball coaches who followed him. He drinks too much, he’s bogged down by feelings of nostalgia for his own career, but deep down he’s incredibly competitive. He’s got that edge. What else sends you out to bribe a pre-teen, female map saleswoman to be your ace?
Best Quote: “This quitting thing, it’s a hard habit to break once you start.”
3. Gene Hackman as “Norman Dale,” in Hoosiers.
Coach Dale is probably the default #1 for a lot of people. I don’t want to say it’s an overrated performance, it makes the top-4, but old Geno is benefiting from a lot of other positive energy. It’s also hard for me to ignore the turn Hackman did as the coach in The Replacements, but I did ignore it for the sake of the judging. What makes Dale? He’s tough, but sentimental. He’s a bit mysterious. Where did he come from again? He just appeared at the smallest high school in Indiana on the heels of some scandal and started demanding the boys pass the rock. Coach Dale confidently gives the finger to all established authority figures–a huge plus, and for once is not preoccupied with his own career. How novel. One of the few negatives I can think of, something that keeps me from elevating even more is his most effective strategies seemed to be getting tossed from games and “running the picket fence at them,” which if I remember correctly he may have stolen that play from “Shooter.” Also, it’s easy to coach when Chitwood doesn’t miss a shot the whole movie.
Best Quote: “Strap, in for Everett. No shooting the ball unless you’re under the basket all by yourself.”
2. Burgess Meredith as “Mickey Goldmill,” in Rocky.
At first I was going to limit this to coaches of team sports, it seemed like a reasonable way to trim the candidates and a good way to evade my exclusion of Mr. Miyagi, but in the end, I had to have Mick on the list. What often strikes me about boxing trainers is their appearance. You at them, sometimes old, often out of shape, and you say, “You’re teaching that massive specimen how to fight?” Mick certainly has that quality, he’s the old chihuahua barking at Rock’s ankles, but he pulls it off, because he’s just a feisty SOB. Mick’s got fire. He’s got snarl. And, he commands the gym. Think about how difficult it is to gain the respect of young fighters when you look like Mick, but no one dared cross him. Mick is also responsible for the “alternative training montage,” that became the signature of the Rocky films and other sports movies. You want to be fast? Catch the chicken. That sounds awful, “wax on, wax off,” to me.
Best Quote: “Women weaken legs.”
1. James Gammon as “Lou Brown,” in Major League.
Lou Brown took the best elements from the baseball movie managers that preceded him and compiled them all into the perfect portrayal. Brown’s a realist, he’s painfully dry and sarcastic, but it all rings true. He also doesn’t need a vice, or a dark side to overcome. There’s no feel-good kick the alcohol or gambling habit storyline. He’s just a pure baseball manager. In a movie filled with classic characters, it is always Lou Brown’s deadpan that steals a scene. If you’ve ever spent any time around baseball coaches, Lou Brown is a guy who could have fit right in. Often movies make the coach more of a caricature, or portray them as buffoons. Not Lou Brown. He’s got the telltale competitive streak and he uses it to unify his rag-tag bunch. The fictional Indians win with Lou Brown, not in spite of him.
Top-5 Lou Brown Quotes:
- “You may run like Mays, but you hit like sh*t.”
- “We wear caps and sleeves at this level, son.”
- “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever f*cking do it again.”
- “Let me get back to you will you, Charlie? I got a guy on the other line about some white walls.”
- “Forget about the curve ball Ricky, give him the heater.”