The Coachie Awards: The Best and Worst Movie Coaches

By: Chris Dagonas and Dan Grant

CHRIS: Hey Dan, have you ever seen that Powerade commercial? The one with the college basketball coach?

DAN: Yeah, I remember that one. Why do you ask?

CHRIS: I would run through a wall for that guy.

DAN: Yeah, I get that. It’s like Powerade predicted the coaching talents of Kevin Ollie.

CHRIS: Definitely. But hey, what other made-up coaches could inspire that sort of hype?

DAN: STOP EVERYTHING! I think we have a column here.

CHRIS: Did you really have to say ‘STOP EVERYTHING’ like that? What were we even doing?

DAN: (Furtively discards a can of spray cheese) Nothing. Nothing at all! Anyway, I think we need to go deeper than just commercials.

CHRIS: How do you mean?

DAN: I’m talking about movies, Chris. Talkies. The pictures, kid!

CHRIS: You’re going to stop talking like that or I’m out of here.

DAN: You’re gonna be a star!

CHRIS: Sooooo anyway, movie coaches, eh? I think that’s where you were going…?

DAN: You got it! A great movie coach can be the straw the stirs the proverbial drink for a great sports movie. For example, did you see Million Dollar Arm or Draft Day?

CHRIS: Um, no I did not.

DAN: Neither did anyone else! I don’t even know if they’re good or bad. But I do know that the previews definitely lacked glimpses of a great coach.

CHRIS: That’s true! I knew there was a reason I saw The Fault in Our Stars instead!

DAN: (eyebrow raised)

CHRIS: I meannn… Labor Day. No wait, Endless Love! Stop judging me, those were films with heart! Just like the heart the right coach can add to a great sports movie!

DAN: Nice save. The problem is, there are so many great movie coaches, it’s hard to choose a favourite. While you were babbling about chick flicks [Ed. Note: Dan is a not-so-secret lover of a good chick flick himself. You’ve been outed, Grant!) I was thinking about this – we have to have categories.

CHRIS: I like it! Maybe Most Badass?

DAN: For sure. I’ve thrown in a couple twists too, so put down your tissues and let’s get to it!

"The movie coaching game is a game of inches."

“The movie coaching game is a game of inches.”

MOST BADASS

DAN:

Character: Tony D’Amato of the Miami Sharks

Actor: 1990’s Al Pacino at his gravel-voiced finest

Movie: Any Given Sunday

Why?

Tony D’Amato was old school when the old school was still new. You follow? Me neither. But the man is a legend at the start of the movie. Trusted and respected by players, coaches, fans and ownership alike, he’s built a career around quarterback ‘Cap’ Rooney and in classic sports movie fashion, it all comes crumbling down around him. Following the death (pre-movie) of his longtime friend and owner of the team, Cap suffers a career-threatening injury. Tony gets saddled with a hotshot new star QB in ‘Steamin’ Willie Beamen that won’t listen to a thing he says. The core of his team has become bloated and obsessed with everything except football. It seems like he’s become a dinosaur. The new owner wants him out. The trust and respect are gone. He’s finished.

So what does he do?

He gives this famous speech, since played at sporting venues ad nauseum.

He takes the Sharks as far as they can go, winning their Conference and milking every last drop out of a situation that’s become untenable. He wins the trust back. He wins the respect back.

And then he sticks a huge middle finger up at everyone involved, gets out of dodge and takes his new star with him. Doesn’t get much more badass than that.

CHRIS:

Character: Ken Carter of the Richmond Oilers

Actor: The epitome of badass, Samuel L. Jackson

Movie: Coach Carter

Why?

Even though Coach Carter comes with the dreaded “Based On A True Story” tagline, Jackson’s rendition of said coach is unsurprisingly badass to the umpteenth degree. He kicks kids off the team at the drop of a hat, he eyeballs parents who dare disagree with him, and he just straight gives no fucks whatsoever to what anyone in the school thinks of his decisions. He’s such a good coach, he doesn’t even let his players practice, issuing a gym lockdown until they get their minds right. When Gregg Popovich kneels down to pray at night, he does so to a picture of Coach Carter.

Of course, it’s easy to get away with such badassery if you’re winning basketball games, and Coach Carter knew how to win some basketball games. When his players buckled down and gave it the ol’ college try, Coach Carter let them play, and they advanced to their playoffs before finally bowing out to a more studious St. Francis High School team.

Nonetheless, in making his players study hard before playing basketball, Samuel L. Jackson’s Coach Carter proved that by removing a poor, demotivated student’s favourite thing from their life, you can motivate them to achieve great things.

Wait…

Icelanders. Amirite, people?

Icelanders. Amirite, people?

BEST VILLAIN

CHRIS:

Character: Wolf ‘The Dentist’ Stansson

Actor: Carsten Norgaard

Movie: D2: The Mighty Ducks

Why?

This says it all. He deflated their beach ball! He slashed Gordon’s leg! He arrived promptly for his team’s scheduled practice time! People from Iceland are total jerks.

Apparently, Stansson made a brief NHL career out of harming and maiming his opponents and having little skill. Sounds like he could play on the Leafs’ fourth line (rimshot). No one likes to see some goon teach his goonish ways to youngsters, but that’s exactly what The Dentist tries to do. Luckily for the hockey universe, the Icelanders find their inner moral compass, and ignore their coach’s brutal orders in a pivotal scene. What’s that? You haven’t seen D2: The Mighty Ducks, and I just spoiled it for you? Too bad, that movie is twenty years old. I hate to deflate your beach ball at an ice rink, but it doesn’t count as a spoiler after this long.

Also, he’s foreign, so, you know. Yuck.

DAN:

Character: Coach Bud Kilmer of the West Canaan Coyotes

Actor: Jon Voight (My run of Best Actor Oscar winners continues!)

Movie: Varsity Blues

Why?

Football movies probably outrank other sports movies two to one in terms of how many there are. Even with the multitude that have been made, there are a few things that are usually included: an unlikely star thrust into the spotlight (Air Bud: Golden Receiver!), a player who has a substance abuse issue (be it steroids or drugs/alcohol), then there’s the cheerleader who just wants to ‘get out’ and the lifetime jock who secretly doesn’t want to play sports. Finally, there is always either a fish out of water coach, or more often, a nasty, gritty coach who has been doing his job for a million years.

Coach Bud Kilmer in Varsity Blues is unique because he isn’t really the central character in the movie, yet every action taken in the movie, by any character, is influenced by his presence. Sometimes in sports movies, we’re given a peek behind the curtain of that hardass coach, shown why he is the way he is, a la Pacino’s Tony D’Amato or Gene Hackman’s Norman Dale.Not so with Kilmer. From the opening moments of the film we’re shown that he’s basically just a sour, old asshole. He’s a high school football coach that has spent years exploiting the football-crazy nature of the town of West Canaan, breaking his athletes like a literal slave driver. There’s no teaching, no warmth, no mutual respect. There is racism, physical and verbal abuse and a short sighted obsession with winning. It’s not a coach and his team, it’s a despot and his peasants. Which is what makes it all that much sweeter when he finally gets his ass handed to him.

BEST COMIC RELIEF

DAN:

Character: Coach Bobby Finstock of the Beacon Hills Beavers

Actor: Jay Tarses, better known as… the writer of The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan! Yahtzee!

Movie: Teen Wolf

Why?

I used to watch Teen Wolf on Space all the time when I was a teenager. It’s a ridiculous movie. Bill Simmons consistently brings it up in his columns and podcasts, so I’m not going to rehash things too deeply here. It’s basically about a high school basketball player that is starting to turn into a werewolf. For some reason this is accepted by everyone as something that is weird, but not a huge deal. Citizen Kane it ain’t.

I’ve watched many, many YouTube clips to do research for this section and maybe it’s the fact that I’m a teacher now, but deadbeat Finstock’s consistently useless advice to Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) will always rank right up there for me.

My favourite:

The rest of the team is upset that Howard, as the basketball playing werewolf, is hogging the ball (or something).

Howard: “I don’t get it Coach, what’s their problem?”

Finstock: “Let me give you a little advice. There’s three rules that I live by. Never get less than 12 hours of sleep a night. Never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city. And never go near a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Follow those, and everything else is cream cheese. Great game there Scotty” (claps him on the shoulder and walks away before he can respond)

Howard (utterly bemused): … Thanks coach.

CHRIS:

Character: Jimmy Dugan of the Rockford Peaches

Actor: Tom Hanks

Movie: A League of Their Own

Why?

Who else but Hanks could take a movie about women struggling to gain respect, set in World War II, which involves people dying and sisters torn apart, and make you laugh throughout? Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan is an alcoholic who hates coaching women, but learns to love and respect them in the end. Along the way, though, are tons of quotable quips:

I don’t know what Grant is talking about here, but Jimmy Dugan is the funniest coach to ever grace the silver screen.

LEAST BELIEVABLE

CHRIS:

Character: Irv Blitzer of the Jamaican Bobsled team

Actor: John Candy

Movie: Cool Runnings

Why?

I love this movie. During the Sochi Olympics, I showed this to my students, and it had them talking in Jamaican accents for two whole weeks. The actors chosen to play the bobsledders, despite some questionable Jamaican accents, at least look like athletes. On the other hand, John Candy probably never looked like an athlete since he was in the third grade. The absurd notion that he was a world-class athlete twenty years prior was stretching plausibility, even when I first watched this as a wide-eyed eight-year-old.

Even in the movie, his ideas are eccentric at best, and downright insane in some cases. Cold weather training? Lock Sanka in the ice cream truck! Fly to Calgary without a bobsled, the single most important piece of equipment? Buy one from the guys that hate you! Yeesh, Coach Blitzer. Stick to pool and betting on the ponies. This Olympics thing is not for you.

DAN:

Character: Chubbs Peterson

Actor: Carl Weathers

Movie: Happy Gilmore

Why?

Don’t get me wrong, Chubbs is one of the great sports movie characters. He’s an absolutely ridiculous addition to one of my favourite adolescent sports movies. But Carl Weathers as a golf coach? He’s more suited to his other famous sports movie character, Apollo Creed. That, coupled with one of the most poorly constructed prosthetic hands I’ve ever seen (to be fair, it’s a short list) doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence that this man has any clue what the hell he’s talking about. He offers very little real advice in the movie other than “go to your happy place” and “it’s all in the hips”. And really, who hates riding the bull? Come on man!

Chubbs, I love you but I don’t believe for a goddamned second that you were a professional golfer.

Damn alligator bit my hand off!

Damn alligator bit my hand off!

BEST OVERALL

DAN:

Character: Coach Herman Boone of the T.C. Williams Titans

Actor: Denzel Washington at the height of his powers

Movie: Remember the Titans

Why?

“What is pain?!”

“FRENCH BREAD!” (homonyms are tough in text)

I mean, have you seen the movie? There are few actors as inspiring as Denzel Washington when he’s shooting from the hip. Based on a true story about the integration of T.C. Williams high school in Virginia, Remember the Titans tells the story of Coach Herman Boone, who was brought up from South Carolina to coach the first integrated football team.

And yes, it’s a Disney movie that’s rated PG-13. There are some pretty campy scenes, if you want to be a snob about it (black players like soul music! White players like country music! We are soooooo different!) But at the centre of it all, Washington blazes like a fireball. In his scenes with the white coaches, he is raw in both his passion for the game and for the struggles that the community is facing. In his scenes with the players, he is harsh but fair, a teacher AND a tyrant. He rules with an iron fist because he knows that the team is a gateway for the community – if the team can come together, maybe the city can, too.

This category is about personal preference. I prefer Herman Boone.

CHRIS:

Character: Coach Norman Dale of the Hickory High School Basketball Team

Actor: Gene Hackman

Movie: Hoosiers

Why?

Are you kidding me? Get out of here with that question! Coach Dale is twice the badass of Coach Carter, with just the right touch of villainy and a scent of humour. He’s believable, too, almost the perfect casting choice as an angry, disgruntled former college coach.

The movie itself is a redemption story (about Dale) and an underdog story (about the team itself), which gives viewers a double dose of rooting for the heroes. Plus, it captures everything good and bad about small-town America. While the movie may stray into hokey outcomes on the way to the title game, Hackman’s performance is perfectly realistic and on-point as a man trying to build himself back up from the ground. And while he’s at it, he coaches a damn fine basketball team.

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