The Best Movie Coaches

Need an inspirational locker room speech or a last minute, game-winning strategy change? Look no further than these hard-bitten movie bench bosses.

All too often, real world coaches live only to disappoint. They steer your favorite team into a first round playoff exit. Or they muster their troops for an 0-16 season. Or they get caught in a cheating scandal. But not in the movies. There, coaches always have the perfect speech ready, the ultimate strategy in mind, and the suitably disturbing psychological problem simmering just below the surface that’ll deliver the big game win and maybe, just maybe, teach us all a little bit about ourselves.

Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) – Hoosiers
Underdog (read: all white) basketball teams need a man to give them the tough love, sense of discipline, and boost of confidence to play David to a whole conference full of Goliaths. That man, naturally, is Hackman.

Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) – The Bad News Bears
Sure, Morris is a mess, but consider all those people who entrust the safety of their children to mildly depressed alcoholics and end up…well, not winning the big game, that’s for damn sure. These parents should thank their lucky stars all Buttercrud does is drive the kids around without seatbelts while drinking.

Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) – Miracle
Few would argue that the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team victory over the Soviet Union was one of the greatest sports moments of all time—and this in a sport that ranks just below bull riding in the American consciousness. Such is the greatness of Brooks.

Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) – Any Given Sunday
Motivating a bunch of roided-up, overpaid millionaires is a tough job, but imagine doing it and maintaining the beef jerky-textured tan required of a Miami-based coach. Now you see why Tony is a man to be respected.

Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) – Blue Chips
Although not Bobby Knight, Nolte’s Not Bobby Knight does all sorts of Kinda Bobby Knight things like throw chairs, berate players, and linger on the verge of a coronary every second of his life. But he’s Not Bobby Knight. Seriously.

Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) – Friday Night Lights
Coaching high school football is usually the provence of recently fired Costco night managers with plates in the heads, except in Texas. There, he holds the entire state’s fragile self-esteem in his hands—not to mention its stunted adolescence, racism, and bottled rage.

Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) – Slap Shot
Sure, Reg understands that unleashing three possibly retarded goons onto the ice is the key to victory (and abject violence), but we give him credit for being ballsy enough to refuse to hang up his skates. The player/coach is all too rare a commodity.

Coach Turnbull (M. Emmett Walsh) – Back to School
Being a great coach means being able to make the tough calls. Like, say, you’re one dive away from winning or losing the big meet and you make the decision to rest the outcome on the shoulders of a 60 year-old man and his carnival-attraction dive. Nerves. Of. Steel.

Lou Brown (James Gammon) – Major League
We’re not sure why it is that gravel-voiced curmudgeons make the best coaches for rag-tag groups of misfits, but they just do. Lou is both old school enough to know the basics of the game, and new school enough to accept that his entire infield belongs in a halfway house.

Wayne Hisler (Paul Gleason) – Johnny Be Good
Some may call framing his star quarterback for rape so that he can blackmail him into signing with a specific college “wrong,” but that’s just because those people don’t understand the depths of Coach Hisler’s dedication.

Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) – A League of Their Own
He may have personal problems, but the man knows baseball. Like, say, what shouldn’t be in baseball (crying) and what should be (drinking and bus rides). Just don’t ruin his booze-blurred vision of reality and tell him he’s managing a team of women (he thinks he’s managing the Marlins).

Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) – Remember the Titans
How tough a coach is Boone? He doesn’t make his team just run laps, he makes them run laps over the spirits of the unburied Civil War dead. Yes, even the kicker. Boys, you missed your chance to play water polo. Suck it up.

Bobby Finstock (Jay Tarses) – Teen Wolf
Lazy? OK. Slovenly? We’ll give you that. Dopey? Sure. But we defy to name another coach who could watch one of his players turn into a werewolf in the middle of a game and barely bat an eye. He defines “cool under pressure.” Or “oblivious,” if you want to be a dick.

Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) – Coach Carter
How do we know Coach Carter is an amazing man? The movie is called Coach Carter. Look around—you see other coaches with their names in the title? This is distinguished company, folks. Make way for the man.

Patches O’Houlihan (Rip Torn) – Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
Some people think Patches’s coaching techniques are a tad unorthodox, and we call these people “sane and well adjusted.” But if you don’t want to catch a wrench in the kisser, why the hell did you sign up to play Dodgeball, ya doofus?

Coach Harris (John Goodman) – Revenge of the Nerds
Of all the coaches on this list, only Harris is man enough to know that coaching doesn’t end in the locker room or after the final buzzer. Oh, no. You can apply that same unthinking brutality to everyday activities like vandalizing homes and committing hate crimes.