In honor of actor James Gammon's recent death (Gammon played fictional Cleveland Indians manager Lou Brown in the 1989 movie Major League), I have decided to break down Burney's very own top five list of the best high school coaches in Movie and/or TV history. Alright, as The Black Eyed Peas say, lets get it started!
Burney's Top 5 – Fictional Prep Head Coaches
1 Norman Dale (Hoosiers, 1986) – By far the greatest fake sideline general of all-time in the by the greatest sports movie of all-time! Played brilliantly by Oscar-winning actor Gene Hackman, Dale led the middle-of-the-road Hickory Huskers all the way to the 1952 Indiana high school state basketball championship and he did it by teaching a group of undersized scrappers, including arguably the best on-screen hoopster of all-time in Jimmy Chitwood, to play as a unit on the floor and use fundamentals and defense to take down larger-sized, more athletically gifted teams en route to the crown. Famous for once playing almost the entire second half a game with only four players on the floor as a means to teach his No. 2 scorer, the team and the entire community, a lesson in humility, discipline and pride.
2 Ken Reeves (White Shadow, 1978-1981) – By far the coolest TV head coach in history! Played by Ken Howard, Reeves was a injured white pro basketball player who found his way to coaching a minority-dominated team in inner-city Oakland, California, filled with colorful characters like: Warren Coolidge (a afro-wearing big fella and the squad's best player, who in one episode that proved to foreshadow events almost two decades later, is considering going pro and declaring for the NBA right out of 12th grade), Morris Thorpe (a sly and cerebral point guard that knows how to keep the team loose both on the floor and off with his slick-witted antics), James "Hollywood" Hayward (Thorpe's backcourt, who had a mean mid-range game and could take it to the rack with the authority and doubled as the team's No. 1 ladies man) and Mario "Salami" Petrino ( the team's only white player and its defensive specialist and sparkplug off the bench).
The kind of coach that you would both want to play really hard for and then hang out with after school.
3 Vern Nickerson (All The Right Moves, 1983) – Gets points deducted 'cause despite his awesome motivational tactics and inspirational speeches heading the Ampipe HS football team in a dim Pennsylvania steel town, he tried to blackball his grittiest and hardest-hitting player (Stef Djorgevic played by none other than Tom Cruise) from getting a scholarship to play in college because of personal differences. Still, his pre-game speech before the epic clash with Walnut Heights gives me chills every time I watch this movie (which today is currently at the No. 567 re-watch mark). Nickerson's decision to not take a safety late in the game and instead hand the ball off to an average running back in the middle of a rain storm and on his own goal line (which said running back immediately fumbled due to the weather's slippery conditions and Heights recovered for the game-winning TD as time expired) goes down as the all-time biggest coaching blunder in movie history!In a taste of things to come, the role of Nickerson was played by Craig T. Nelson, who would eventually go onto stardom as a fictional college football coach in the hit TV sitcome, "Coach" in the late-80s and early-90s.
4 Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights TV show, 2006 - Present) – I personally liked the book and the movie FNL (about high school football and small town life in West Texas) better than the TV show, but that said, actor Kyle Chandler's portrayal of coach Taylor is pretty amazing and many of the storylines (the Jason Street saga and the Tim Riggins character-arc, especially) are very intriguing.
5 Bobby Finstock (Teen Wolf, 1985) – Not a very good hoops coach at all, however, unbelievably funny and even though he only has less than a dozen dialogue sequences in the underrated film classic that is Teen Wolf, you find yourself in stitches after every single one.
A few choice clips:
There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese. What is it, gambling? Drugs? You know I'd really like to help you but I'm kind of tapped out this month. The IRS is coming down on me like it's some personal vendetta against Bobby Finstock.
Well, Christ, Thorne, look at the sneakers those guys are wearing. If our guys had sneakers like that there's no telling what they could do.