Admit it. You’ve found yourself taking inspiration from a coach who wasn’t exactly real, haven’t you?
It’s Ok. In fact, considering that fictional coaches have their motivational messages scripted for them by professionals, it actually makes sense. Though we at NFP Sports will only be honoring actual coaches on National Coaches Day, we’re not above dedicating one story to our favorite fictional coaches of all time.
#10 Danny O’Shea (Little Giants)
The kid brother of the small town, glory day hero, Danny assembled a rag-tag bunch of Pee Wee football players deemed not good enough for the A team. Drawing from his own experiences as the lesser athlete in the family, he rallies his team around the idea that if everyone’s “one-time” being the successful underdog happened all at once, they could beat the best team in town. And somehow, they did.
#9 Jimmy Dugan (A League of Their Own)
Played masterfully by Tom Hanks, the washed-up ballplayer turned Women’s Professional Baseball League manager overcomes his own biases (and other demons) to lead his group of girls to the championship. Hilarious, if not terribly inspiring, Duggan taught everyone what ballplayers across the world already knew: There’s no crying in baseball!
#8 Morris Buttermaker (The Bad News Bears)
Most people played on a youth baseball team like The Bears at some point in their life. Some of us even had this coach. Buttermaker begrudgingly took on the task of guiding this woebegotten team through a difficult season, learning a valuable lesson along the way: Winning isn’t everything; Just have fun.
#7 Joe Riggins (Bull Durham)
In a movie lauded for its realism, Riggins was your quintessential minor league manager — worn, grizzled and well versed in the ebb and flow of a long baseball season. His brilliant diatribe against his underachieving team as they dodged flying baseball bats while half-naked in the locker room shower was one of the best fictional coach moments ever. He summed up the simplicity of the game in one terrific line: “You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. Sometimes, you win. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes … it rains.”
#6 Harry Hogge (Days of Thunder)
Yes, this was your typical, 1980s Tom Cruise film. Young hotshot has early success, followed by a setback that he must overcome in order to win the day. However, that didn’t stop Robert Duvall from weaving together a masterful performance as a savvy, yet emotionally-conflicted crew leader charged with teaching a raw and talented driver how to win on the biggest racing stage in the world. Hogge’s combination of experience, empathy and humor made for an entertaining role in an otherwise predictable movie.
#5 Molly McGrath (Wildcats)
This may have been a comedy, but Molly McGrath was no joke! McGrath accepted the job no one else wanted — coaching a high school football team at an inner-city Chicago high school that had more criminals than football players. Raised by her football-coach father, McGrath had all the necessary knowledge to be a leader on the gridiron but had to convince an ornery bunch of teenage boys that she was the right woman for the job. More tough than compassionate, McGrath won them over, then her Wildcats won it all!
#4 Mickey Goldmill (Rocky)
“I’m just a broken-down pug,” he once told Rocky, but Mickey Goldmill was far more than that. He was a trainer, a philosopher, a father-figure and a downright mean old man at times. His performance guiding the ultimate, sports-movie underdog to glory will never be surpassed. More than a few tough guys shed a tear when he died in Rocky III, but his legacy lived on.
#3 Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)
OK, so maybe learning karate isn’t as simple as “wax on, wax off,” but Mr. Miyagi taught us the importance of building character in a young athlete while focusing on the process, not the outcome. Legendary UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden must have enjoyed this performance as Miyagi’s teachings seemed a lot like Wooden’s philosophies while guiding the Bruins to 10 national titles.
#2 Norman Dale (Hoosiers)
Yes, Norman Dale was a real coach and the movie was based on a true story, but the character played by Gene Hackman was as inspirational as they come. The ultimate David vs. Goliath story, Dale came to Hickory, Ind., as a disgraced college hoops coach looking for a second chance in a town that had little interest in being his next project. His team was undermanned, but with the help of a terrifically talented shooter and a supporting cast of players willing to play the game “the right way,” he led a small-town, boys basketball team all the way to the state championship.
#1 Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights)
Taylor may not be the most well known fictional coach on this list, but his five-season run as a high school football coach in high school football-crazy west Texas was brilliant. He’s the only coach on our list that showed how difficult it can be to manage the favorites, then taking his talents to lead the underdogs. Using tough love and hard work to inspire his teenage players to give their all in sports and in life. Taylor’s Dillon Panthers and East Dillon Lions didn’t always win, but his players certainly did.