Film Room: The Greatest Coaches/Managers in Sports Movie History (Part I)

The coach of a sports team serves as a unifying figure.  He is the director, the maestro, the general and the counselor.  The team (or individual) will operate in a manner deemed appropriate by the coach in order to guarantee the maximum effort and achieve the most positive result possible.  Perhaps what is so fascinating about the coaching position is that though the goals of each coach are common, they can be arrived at through many different techniques and styles.  As such, while some coaches adhere to a very authoritative and rigid style of coaching, others believe a softer and more energetic approach as the key to success. 

Fortunately, beyond the multitude of fine coaches that exist in real life, Hollywood has done a fine job of creating many memorable coaches in all different types of sports movies.  With that being said, our second installment of our sports movie countdown will examine what both Anthony and I believe are the best coaches in sports movie history.  One qualifier that we implemented before we made our selections were that the coaches we selected had to be fictitious characters as opposed to actors or actresses that portrayed real life coaches. 

***WARNING*** Out of respect to our younger followers, please be advised that this post will contain explicit language, perhaps not suitable for youngsters. Thank you!


Wally Riggendorf – Necessary Roughness 

Wally Riggendorf (left) from "Necessary Roughness" was played incredibly well by Robert Loggia.

I’m going to start it out with a bit of a wild card selection.  In the movie Necessary Roughness, two old-time coaches are brought in to restore the academic standing of the Texas State football program.  The program, though winning a national championship, had been sanctioned by the NCAA for a laundry list of violations including grade tampering, steroid use, and illegal payouts.  After contacting Ed Genaro (Hector Elizondo) to become the team’s head coach, Genaro reaches out to his former colleague and long-time friend Wally Riggendorf (Robert Loggia) who he hands over the defense to.  Riggendorf is an old-school coach with a fiery attitude who manages to insert well-timed wit and humor in the most desperate of situations. 

The night before the team’s season finale against rival Texas, Genaro suffers what appeared to be a heart attack and promoted Riggendorf to become the interim head coach.  After a difficult opening half which saw the “Fighting Armadillos” give up a 21-point lead, Riggendorf gives what I believe is one of the best speeches in sports movie history.  The speech (which I will share below) sparked the lowly Armadillos into shocking the #1 team in the nation and earning their first victory of the season. 

Memorable quote:  “Now let’s analyze what’s been working for us.  [LONG PAUSE]. . . Not a god damn thing’s been workin’ for us [PROCEEDS TO RIP SHIRT AND TIE] lie this god damn shirt and this god damn tie, it doesn’t work for me.  You know how you play winning hard-nosed football; you play football like Ed Genaro played football, a guy who gave his life for this football team.  He was a 145 pound halfback, and he played like a god-damn wild man, like a god-damn rampaging beast.  And that’s the way you gotta do it.  You go out there, you tear their fucking heads off, and you shit down their neck.  [PAUSE] . . . Let us pray.” 


Pete Bell – Blue Chips 

Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) in "Blue Chips".

In his tremendous portrayal of a desperate high-profile college basketball coach, Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) engages in a bitter internal struggle as he tries to fight the pressures of cheating in order to resurrect his team that had fallen on hard times.  We are introduced to the beloved Coach Bell as his mediocre team finishes with a losing record, the first of Coach Bell’s career.  As we see the tremendous lifestyle and popularity that Coach Bell enjoys, we begin to understand that it is the Coach’s constant obsession with winning coupled with his tenacity that propelled his team to the championship level in the past.  Now, that same ferociousness appears to slowly be eating away tat the Coach’s morals, as he ultimately succumbs to the harsh realities of the recruiting world:  players must be bought. 

The rest of the movie involves Coach Bell’s efforts in attempting to lure the most impressive freshmen class to join Western University.  Ultimately, through the help of some “friends of the program” Coach Bell lands the three most prized recruits in all the land.  However, after their big win against #1 Indiana University in the season opener, Coach Bell in a tremendous scene, publicly questions his own actions and resigns as head coach. 

Throughout the movie there are scenes in which Nolte does a fantastic job of portraying an incredibly knowledgeable coach.  We are taken inside the practice facilities and able to see innovative coaching techniques and before the big game Nolte delivers an awe-inspiring motivational speech. 

Memorable quote:  Addressing his team after their stunning upset win over the #1 ranked Indiana Hoosiers – “Boys, the rules don’t make much sense.  But I believe in the rules.  Some of us broke them.  I broke them.  I can’t do this.  I can’t win like this.” 


Lou Brown – Major League 

Lou Brown (James Gammon) displaying his motivational poster in "Major League".

In the movie “Major League” Lou Brown, along with the entire roster that comprised the Cleveland Indians were put together with on purpose in mind:  to lose.  However, the gritty, hard-nosed, and eternal optimist Brown (James Gammon) refused to believe that his team was ill-equipped to enjoy success in the major leagues.  Instead, Brown worked tirelessly to extract the maximum effort and dedication from the cast of characters in his clubhouse en route to winning their division. 

In perhaps the most pivotal scene of the movie, Brown is informed by the team’s general manager of the owner’s plans to field a losing team in order to catalyze a series of events that would ultimately result in the team’s location to South Florida.  Recognizing a tremendous opportunity to ignite the competitive passions of his team, Brown informs them of their owner’s deceitful plan and uses a clever motivational ploy.  Brown gets together a life-sized poster of the team’s fairly attractive owner and announces to the team that the picture is covered with different pieces that symbolize the number of wins it would take the team to earn a playoff spot.  Brown then explains that after every win, the team gets to peel a piece of the clothing off.  Sure enough, by the end of the movie, the poster of their owner is left exposed for them all to enjoy and celebrate. 

Memorable quote:  Speaking to his talented center-fielder Willie Mays Hayes – “You may run like Hayes, but you hit like shit.” 


Gordon Bombay – Mighty Ducks Movies

The "Minnesota Miracle Man" Gorday Bombay (Emilio Estevez) from "Mighty Ducks".

In 2007 the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup.  Though many would argue the history of the franchise’s championship triumph began when certain acquisitions were made to obtain various players to comprise that particular roster, the true beginning of their road to the cup began in 1992 when the world was introduced to a bunch of misfit kids in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region and their coach, suspended attorney Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez). 

Upon being sentenced to perform community service, Bombay inherited the District 5 peewee hockey team.  At first, it was quite ugly, as the team, filled with a cast of unruly characters, lacked any semblance of hockey fundamentals.  Ultimately after a heart-to-heart conversation with former confidant Hans, Bombay teaches the team to “fly” as they are renamed the Ducks and eventually win the state championship.  In the process, Bombay masterfully incorporates innovative and exciting coaching techniques in order to teach the young kids the game of hockey. 

Later on, in the second installment of the Mighty Ducks, Bombay is at it once again as he leads the mighty ducks, now serving as Team USA, to a gold medal at the Junior Goodwill Games.  Once again, Bombay is able to harness the team’s energy and defeat a seemingly invincible opponent, the Icelandic national squad. 

Ultimately, Gordon Bombay has to go down as one of the most innovative and exciting coaches in hockey sports movie history.  Who else could have made Goldberg a valuable asset to any sports team?  Seriously! 

Memorable quote:  “Yes sir, Mr. Ducksworth.  Thank you very much, Mr. Ducksworth.  Quack, quack, quack!” 


Mickey Goldmill – The Rocky Movies 

Mickey (right) and Rocky (left) moments before Rocky's first bout with then heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in "Rocky".

Similar to Anthony’s first choice in our “badass” feature, perhaps of all the sports coaches/managers, this selection is the easiest.  Serving as the “angel” on Rocky’s shoulders, Mickey Goldmill, played brilliantly by Burgess Meredith is perhaps on of cinema’s most recognizable characters.  Once a former professional boxer himself, the gritty and blue-collar Goldmill runs the gym that club-boxer Rocky Balboa trains out of.  In the beginning of the first movie, Goldmill and Balboa are seen to be at odds towards one another as Goldmill does not respect Balboa’s side-profession as a “collection specialist” for a known mobster. 

Ultimately, once Balboa receives the shot at Apollo Creed and the heavyweight championship of the world, Goldmill approaches Balboa to become his manager.  After a memorable scene in which Balboa yells at Goldmill, the two form an incredible bond that continues even beyond Goldmill’s death during the third Rocky movie and is seen through all six movies. 

Though he certainly was not a technician, Goldmill was able to bring out Balboa’s tremendous heart and intestinal fortitude which served Balboa well throughout his storied career.  In the process, Goldmill became a father figure for Balboa, staying with him as Adrian was in a coma during Rocky II, and ultimately coming to live with the Balboas in Rocky III.  Though he mostly lacked a sentimental side, Goldmill may be considered one of the most beloved and cherished characters in all of sports movie history. 

Memorable quote (of which there are hundreds):  “Stay away from that pet shop dame.  Women weaken legs!”

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