The Greatest Coaches in the History of Cinema

By Duncan Ritchie

02-February-2021 on Tips

14 minute read

At Nacsport, we’re unashamed cinephiles, especially when it comes to movies related to sport. Last year, in order to help you cope during lockdown, we published a list of sports movies to watch while in quarantine. This list was quite popular, but this year we wanted to do something a bit more specific and closer to you, so we came up with this list: the best coaches in the history of cinema. 

 

We’ve thrown out some names and arranged them in reverse order, so we’ve left what we consider the best 'til last. 

 

Why this order? There’s no objective criterion: just those who inspired us with their memorable speeches, those whose sports careers were exceptional or simply those who won us over with their charming personalities. 

 

The films that we have included in this list are ideal to watch during a journey, in those idle hours when travelling from one place to another to play games, or even during your free time at home. 

 

We hope you like it. We think there’s something for everyone on this list!

Mickey Goldmill - Rocky

 

“Get up…you son of a bitch! Cause Mickey loves ya! ” 

 

 

Who can forget the man, the myth, the legend...Mickey Goldmill. Rocky Balboa’s coach until he dies in the 3rd film, only to come back as a ghost to inspire Rocky to victory in the 5th.

 

Yeah, we’re sure you’re well aware of Mickey and have watched, and probably rewatched, the saga several times, but we feel he definitely deserves his place in this list as an inspirational coach.

 

Seriously, the man came back from the dead to help Rocky win! What more do you want?



Tony D'Amato - Any Given Sunday

 

“Either we heal now as a team, or we will die as individuals”

 

 

This film has several interwoven plots regarding the American Football industry, but they all converge in one way or another on the figure of Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino, coach of the Miami Sharks.

 

This film is well worth a watch, even if just for the famous “Inch by Inch” speech in the moments leading up to the final of the championship...a plea regarding life and football.

 

In addition, the cast of this film is nothing short of stellar. Pacino backed up by Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diax, James Woods and Jamie Foxx? Yes, please!

 

Seek this one out right now!

 

Don Haskins - Glory Road

 

"I don’t see colour...I see quick, I see skill...and that’s what I’m putting on the court."

 

 

We love a true story here at Nacsport and “Glory Road” is one of them. It tells the story of Don Haskins, coach at 

 

We love sports movies based on real events. "Road to glory" is one of them. It tells the story of Don Haskins, coach of the University of Texas  basketball team at El Paso, who broke down the barriers of racial discrimination in the NCAA, with a roster of seven African-American players.

 

Although the ending has already been written into the history books, we’ll avoid spoilers, just in case. But rest assured, it’s a doozy. 

 

We love the bravery shown by Haskins, overcoming racial prejudice, overriding stereotypes and focussing on what’s really important...leading his team to glory.

 

Frankie Dunn - Million Dollar Baby

 

“I teach you all you need to know and you go out there and win a million dollars. That’s just the way it’s gonna be.”

 

 

Clint Eastwood as a coach? There’s no way we could exclude that from this list. Frankie Dunn is a veteran boxing coach who is about to retire but reluctantly agrees to take on an aspiring female boxer (Hilary Swank).

 

True to form, Eastwood plays Dunn as a surly, grumpy man who, nevertheless, has a deep rooted sense of honour. The film takes an unexpected left turn half-way through and is certainly not the “Rocky” clone it starts off as, but without a doubt, there’s inspiration to be found here.

 

Herb Brooks - The Miracle

 

“This your time. Now go out there and take it." 

 

 

Another story based on real events. Herb Brooks is the coach of the national US ice-hockey team who leads his team to a gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games against the Soviet Union, considered to be the best team in the world until that moment having won consuctive golds since 1964.

 

Filmed slap bang in the middle of the Cold War, the relationship between American and the USSR adds even more spice to this inspirational story.

 

Brooks (Kurt Russell) inspires a team consisting of student athletes to victory against a team that is, for all intents and purposes, invincible in what is largely considered to be one of the greatest ice hockey matches of all time.

 

A must see! 

 

Norman Dale - Hoosiers

 

“I was hired to teach the boys to play basketball and I did that to the best of my ability. I apologise for nothing.”

 

 

A coach who has not trained anyone for twelve years arrives in a backwater down in the heart of Indiana to take over the high school basketball team. His methods collide head on with the traditional way of doing things and the star player has abandoned sport after the death of his previous coach.

 

With just six players on the roster, Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) has to get the town’s team back in the game...and win. We’ll leave you to discover the rest of story for yourself.

 

Inspired by true events, this 1986 film might feel a little dated but we still love it. It’s a classic sports movie and, even today, the inspirational coach theme stands up to scrutiny. 

 

Brian Clough - The Damned United

 

“You've done it all by blooming cheating. You are going to have to work and improve and change.”

 

 

At the beginning of this article, we warned you that there was no specific criteria for inclusion on this list and this is borne out to be true with the inclusion of characters like Brian Clough, an arrogant controversial coach who remains true to his principles and falls flat on his face during his time at Leeds United.

 

“The Damned United” tells the story of Clough’s forty-four day reign at Leeds when he arrived to replace the reviled Don Revie, a veritable institution. He had to fight, unsuccessfully, against a squad, coaching staff and management all too attached to their previous manager.

 

This film is a breath of fresh air on this list which is dominated by American productions. Thoroughly English and about football (with a round ball as opposed to the egg-shaped American variety), this film about this legendary character is well-deserved of its 5th place in this list.


Jack Lengyel - We are Marshall

 

“Funerals end today.” 

 

 

"We are Marshall" tells the story of the reconstruction of the American football team at Marshall University after a plane crash in which almost the entire squad, board of directors and a good number of fans were killed.

 

Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), who volunteers himself for this monumental task, after the refusal of countless coaches, is a particular type, histrionic, but with clear ideas. History is not about impossible miracles, but about the effort of an entire city to rise from the ashes. 

 

A story based on real events, "We Are Marshall" is a film that, although it does not have enormous narrative depth, it is tremendously inspiring. 

 

Richard Moller Nielsen - Summer of '92

 

“There are small dogs and large dogs. Small dogs bark all the time. Big ones don't need to bark.”

 

 

This movie is a little Danish gem that you can watch on Netflix. Not only is it based on real events, but also, those of us of a certain age will remember it perfectly and with a certain sense of nostalgia. 

 

A film with documentary overtones (real images of the matches appear), which tells the story of Richard Moller Nielsen, a humble coach who led the Denmark team to victory in the 1992 European Championship.

 

A true life underdog story with an outcome that belongs in the realms of fiction. Inspirational!

 

Ken Carter - Coach Carter

 

“I came to coach basketball players and you became students. I came to teach boys and you became men.”

 

 

In our opinion, Coach Carter is one of the best coaches in the history of cinema and, hence, takes 2nd place in this list. Let’s put aside the fact that we’re huge fans of Samuel L. Jackson and concentrate on the story.

 

We love Coach Carter because it is a film where the burden is placed firmly on the coach because he is the true protagonist and the true architect in the transformation of his team. Sometimes, being a coach is not only about winning games and titles but also about training kids in preparation for life.

 

Coach Carter took a talented group of basketball players and turned them into a team...but far beyond that, he taught them valuable lessons that went far beyond the realm of sport.

 

If you haven't seen this movie, go and find it...now! 

 

Herman Boone - Remember the Titans

 

“This is no democracy. It is a dictatorship. I am the law.”

 

 

Although it was a tough call between this and Coach Carter, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington takes the victory at the last second. To be honest, this is purely a matter of taste and either film could have claimed the top spot...but we’ve gone with this.

 

Herman Boone tells the story of a black football coach tasked with taking control of a squad of black and white players, amidst the years of racial tension in America.

 

His unifying character, his capacity and his enormous sense of justice over racial differences are the three great weapons with which he uses to overcome the not inconsiderable challenges presented to him and lead the Titans to the glory.

 

A classic for the ages.

 

That’s Our List, What's Your Favourite?

 

As we said, this is OUR list and OUR order. We believe that all the movies here are worthy of consideration and viewing and we urge you to do so.

 

But we know that the world of cinema is huge and varied and that we may have missed somebody’s favourite cinematic coach. So, we’ve done our job and told you our thoughts...but what about you? We’d love for you to have a say and we look forward to your contributions.

 

You can let us know through any of our social media channels or email us at media@nacsport.com. We’re waiting for you!

 

Thanks for reading!

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