One of the more interesting sports debates of all time is… what is the greatest sports movie ever made. Hoosiers, The Longest Yard, Rocky, Raging Bull, Cinderella Man, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Caddyshack, Slapshot and yes, even Talladega Nights all have their merit.
But what makes a great sports movie? Is it the plot? A hero’s plight against insurmountable odds? Which is better, a depiction of actual events or fictional story-telling? In many sports films, one individual is often relied upon to extract the most out of his team. It is often these key characters within the film who determine its greatness and longevity.
Sportschump.net therefore chooses to celebrate the greatest coaches in sports film history. The list is based not only on the quality of the movie and the acting therein, but also how the character, with odds stacked against him, did so much with so little. After all, that is the definition of a coach, isn’t it? To teach and maximize his athletes’ potential?
Well, these five did just that. By doing so, these actors not only made their film more memorable, but blessed us with acting performances for the ages.
5 – Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker in “Bad New Bears” – 1976
Despite the numerous Bears’ films that came afterwards, it was Matthau who originally defined the drunken, downtrodden, minor leaguer turned little league coach who bit off more than he could chew with a bunch of miniscule, mop-topped troublemakers. He chain smoked, brought liquor into the dugout, recruited a girl to pitch for his team and allowed his kids to curse, spit and fight. What kid wouldn’t want a coach like that? In doing so, he taught his kids that winning isn’t necessarily everything. Thirty years later, this film still holds up, as does Matthau’s performance.
4 – Gene Hackman as Norman Dale in “Hoosiers” – 1986
Arguably one of the best basketball films ever made, Hoosiers tells the tale of a coach cast out for slugging a referee. Hackman moves to small town Indiana where basketball is religion and is asked to take over coaching responsibilities for the local high school. While Hackman’s past haunts him, Hickory could not have found a better man for the job. Nor could the director have found a better actor for the role. Hackman wins over the town, helps a player with an alcoholic father, once played with four boys instead of five just to prove a point, beds himself the local brunette and takes his all-opaque, undersized team to the state title, while never compromising his morals. Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play.
3 – Denzel Washington as Herman Boone in “Remember The Titans” – 2000
Ok, name one bad Denzel movie role. You can’t, can you? Well, in Titans, Denzel does it yet again. Based on a true story, Washington’s character is thrust into racially charged and recently desegregated, 1970s Virginia. He takes over a controversial head coaching position, once held by a more popular white coach, and unites his team around football, discipline, togetherness and up-and-downs until they vomit. You cannot replace a Gary Bertier as a player or as a person, but when Denzel’s star defensive end gets paralyzed in a car accident, Coach Boone still gets the best out of his team, calling the final play to win the state title. Gold star if you can name the play, like your life depended on it. No cheating.
2 – Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill in the Rocky series – 1976-82
Taking a washed-up, out of shape, left-handed boxer from the streets of Philadelphia and turning him into a heavyweight champion is no easy task, unless you’re a seventy year-old Jewish man with a hearing aid, a knit cap and a street corner gym. Meredith’s performance in this series was so powerful and convincing, it’s hard to picture him in any other role, despite his success as the Penguin in the 1960s Batman series. Mickey consistently gave Rocky the dose of hard love he needed throughout his training and ultimately found within Balboa what it took to topple Apollo Creed. Cut me, Mick.
1 – Pat Morita as Mister Miyagi in “The Karate Kid” – 1984
Not only does Miyagi take a scrawny, high school kid from New Jersey from practicing karate in his mom’s living room to the All Valley Karate Championship, he also fixes his bike and gives him a lifetime supply of bansai trees. He beats up those that bully him, talks smack within the enemy grounds of the Cobra Kai dojo, gives Daniel LaRusso vintage wheels so he can seal the deal with Elisabeth Shue and magically heals his busted leg so he can properly exercise an indefensible karate move which he himself taught him. What else could one ask for in a coach? Wax on, Mr Miyagi! You’re the best around.
Honorable mention: Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own; Nick Nolte, Blue Chips; Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man; Ben Kingsley, Searching For Bobby Fischer; Carl Weathers, Happy Gilmore; Susan Sarandon, Bull Durham; Billy Bob Thornton, Friday Night Lights; James Gammon, Major League; Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
For pure emotional effect, I think I’d have to go with Eastwood’s character Frankie Dunn in ‘Million Dollar Baby’.
It was a terrific ensemble cast . And the writing and directing was outstanding. A great adaptation of F X O’Toole short story.
I love the combination of Eastwood and Freeman but I can’t see putting him in the top five.
I still think Unforgiven was a better movie than Million Dollar Baby.
I can’t complain a bit about the list. As I was trying to come up with some other greats, I found you already had them down under the honorable mentions!
EASports… thanks for the input.
I had difficult time putting anyone else in the Top 5.
fake 23 blast, with a backside george reverse……..fake 23 blast, with a backside george reverse-like your life depended on it.
I see what you’re saying but. But the premise you state is The Greatest Movie Coaches of All Time . I think you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. Would you also state that Samuel L Jackson’s turn in ‘Coach Carter’ is deserving of a nod ?
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg …..
The above piece is on the Lions.
Well it looks like the Cardinals’ll end up running away with the NL Central . As they’ve just acquired Matt Holliday from the A’s.
And can someone explain to me how the Sixers can let Andre’ Miller slip out of their hands ? He’s now signed a two year $22m contract with the Blazers.
God that NBA Western Conference has become frightening. The balance of power still lies in the West. The East’ll still remain their whipping post for the forseeable future !
I say if you build it they will come , it is our National Pasttime. How can you not put it # 1 Field of Dreams Baby. Can you Imagine coming from work every afternoon and going to that field. Now you tell me. And Chris for # 2 The Puertorican Golf Connection.
Hmmmmm….. Miller to the Blazers. That could be good for them.
Still no Iverson signing, huh?
The difference between East and West isn’t as bad as it’s been. Orlando, Cleveland and Boston are all capable of holding their own. I expect more good things out of Chicago.
I’m gonna send Joe Dumars my resume. I could win with that team.
Salsero… 1) there was no coach in Field of Dreams. 2) I’m still laughing.
I also like to hold my own. But I prefer when a female’s doing the holding.
The Celtics even with the addition of ‘sheed’ are a year older and perhaps a little slower.
The West is and will always be where it’s at.
As for Miller, he’ll now make the Blazers a real force to be reckoned with. With he and Steve Blake sharing the point. I’d say that’s better than most teams’ll have.
So the Rays it looks are out of the Halladay sweepstakes. More hot air than anything else !
They were never in it to begin with !
So… what did you do for the WNBA All-Star Game?
I know you were glued to the set.
The WNBA All Star Game ? Well if there are no stripper poles involved . I ain’t watchin’ !
How is it that the Blue Jays can’t seem to trade Roy Halladay ? Jays’ GM J P Ricciardi is either smokin’ dope, if he really thinks that a team’ll completely meet his demands.
I’d read one guy’s post wherein he’s trying to state how beneficial the trade of Matt Holliday from the A’s to the Cardinals will be. Please, as knowledgeable and passionate he might feel about the game. It shows that he’s got no insight as to how acute the problems of baseball have become. It’s one thing to write about something. But at least write something, that’s insightful and has some merit to it.
My latest pieces . This one even has Serena , Natalie Gulbis and Gretchen Bleiler.
Ten Hottest Females In Sports ……
And where’d we be without a prognosis on the Detroit Lions ?
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg ………
I’ve been catching up on tv programming. In particular HBO’s True Blood and AMC’s Mad Men . Two of the best shows on tv by far ! Both well written and well acted.
Just heard on ESPN that former welterweight titlist Vernon Forrest was shot to death last night. Apparenlty he gave chase, armed with his own gun , after two guys tried to carjack him and take his Jaguar while his young son was also in the vehicle.
Alan Parkins …………
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg ……..
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg ….
I heard that this morning about Forrest. More awful news from the world of sports. What the hell is going on?
Re: Halladay, the Jays are arguing from a position of strength. There’s no immediate need to trade him so they can pretty much set the asking price. They’re not going to give him away and they currently don’t like what’s being offered.
They may ultimately take less down the road though. Will the Jays ultimately become the Pirates?
Great topic Pep but I think you missed the mark on a couple of others. What’s that one about a coach who took the first African American Team to the NCAA?Then there is Express, the Ernie Davis Story. Dennis Quaid did an outstanding job being an asshole, an outstanding coach helping the likes of Jim Brown, not to mention Ernie Davis, to being a friend and learning a bit about himself in the process. Then for me, hard to forget, We Are Marshall and what a job he did. Perhaps my perception is mildly skewed toward coaches that were really coaches…and while Walter Matheau is one of my favorites, he just doesn’t qualify.
Mony… I’ll tell you what.
It’ll be our secret that you like McConaghey more than Matthau. I think you’ve been living in L.A. too long, bra.
Although I did like Quaid in the Ernie Davis movie.
Always bet on black, G.
I got 4 you didn’t mention, nor did your readers. Since I am 4 years older than dirt, all but one of mine comes from some time back.
1. Pat O’Brien as Knute Rockne from the movie “Knite Rockne, All American”. He also played Coach Frank Cavanaugh in “the Iron Major”.
2. Jackie Gleason as Maish Bennick, the manager of Luis “Mountain” Rivera in “Requium For a Heavyweight”.
3. James Gammon played manager Lou Brown in “Major League”.
and last but not least….
4. Groucho Marx as Quincy Adams Flagstaff in “Horsefeathers”. Although he wasn’t technically the coach, he did however coach his brothers.
Bosox bringing up the old school.
I love it!
Great call on Gleason.
Hey, did you write anything on Jim Rice? If so, I’d love to see it.
you could say that War of The Worlds is one of the greatest movies of all times-“`