If you have ever spent time around a real football coach, you know that you are not dealing with the type of well-intentioned spiritual leader portrayed on film. Most football coaches that I have had first hand experience with–as well as those I have heard about from others–are closer to the examples of those football coaches on film who are clearly designed to be villainous. However high the regard you hold your heroic and legendary football coaching figures from real life, the sad truth is that guys like Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno just happened to get caught. Which is not to say that every football coach is a psychotic. Here’s to guys like you, Coach Ross. And here are some of my choices for the best fictional football coaches in television history.
Coach Sauers: King of the Hill
We really only come to know the guy who coaches Arlen High all the way to State a generation later when his star players and towel manager Dale Gribble arrive to talk him into coaching the sons’ little league football team. Coach Sauers is an angry, bitter and volatile man who believes that the best way to motivate young boys to play football is to call them girls as an insult, offer a salt tablet as a salve for any injury and test the strength of helmets by running headfirst into a brick wall. If you honestly believe that Coach Sauers is substantially different in character and humanity from your favorite real life football coach, well, I hope that living in oblivion is working out for you.
Luther Van Dam: Coach
Yeah, the most obvious choice from this TV series is also the one football coach you are most likely to see on any list of fictional football coaches from television. But Hayden Fox is just the head coach on “Coach.” I was always far more interested as well as entertained by Jerry Van Dyke’s Luther Van Dam. Hayden Fox looks and acts like a football coach. He is almost a complete stereotype. But Luther is small, old, klutzy and suffered from more than a little low self esteem and inferiority. Turns out he is also a defensive mastermind. I liken Luther Van Dam in the world of football coaching to Mozart in the world of classical music. You never know what form genius might take.
Snoopy: You’re in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown
One of the less Peanuts animated specials to be sure. But “You’re in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown” contains a great moment of inspiration that is common to most movies and TV shows about football. Snoopy is the coach of the Birds, a football team made up of Woodstock and his buddies. The championship game pits the Birds versus the heavily favored Bisons. Lucy, in her usual way, serves to deflate any kind of optimism that Snoopy might have by informing him of his utter lack of effective coaching skills. She predicts the Bisons will wallop the Birds. In the tradition of the underdog in football movies, Snoopy proves her wrong and wins the championship in a blowout.
Homer Simpson: The Simpsons
Homer Simpson takes over as the football coach of Bart’s little league team from Ned Flanders after one heckle too many wiggles too deeply under the skin of his neighbor. At first, Homer Simpsons looks the very model of a typical football coach. Tough. Mean. Inhuman. And then he recalls how his own father was a tough guy who seemed to learn his parenting skills from Sunday afternoon TV during the fall. So Homer becomes overly nice to his son Bart, giving him preferential treatment over the much more accomplished Nelson Muntz. What really makes Homer Simpson’s brief tenure as football coach in the episode “Bart Star” stand out as memorable is the payoff for the running gag throughout the series of Homer having to cut players. As the end credits roll, Homer hilariously informs them that they have all been cut. Well, almost all.