The greatest coach speeches in cinema
Sport and Hollywood have a long and storied history of enshrining teams (both real and fictional) into cultural folklore. The 2004 Red Sox pennant victory over the Yankees; Manchester United’s last gasp Champions League win against Bayern Munich; Johnny Wilkinson’s extra-time drop goal to win England the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Three sporting triumphs that, as the cliche goes, could have ‘come straight out of a Hollywood script’.
But what the Hollywood lacks in realism and unpredictability, it makes up in heartstring-pulling sentimentality. And there is no better mechanic to get this across in a film than via a poignant monologues from a father-figure like coach. From Gordon Bombay (Mighty Ducks) to Herman Boon (Remember the Titans), we look at some of the most inspiring coach speeches from cinema. Because THIS is our time! (to compile this list).
1. Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks (Miracle)
Any team facing long odds needs a leader who can will the impossible to happen, can bring together a disparate group of players from different parts of the country and convince them of what is really the essence of the underdog, that when it comes down to one game, any team can beat another. And then Brooks comes into the locker room and pats you on the shoulder and starts explaining, in that heavy Minnesota lilt, how you are going to win tonight, not the other guy, as if it is already decided. And if you believe Brooks—really, how could you not?—then it is a fait accompli. The other team, bless their ignorance, just doesn’t know it yet. Their time? Nah, I don’t think so. That is the impact of an inspiring coach, and few coaches pulled off real miracles such as Brooks in Lake Placid.
2. Al Pacino as Tony D’Amato (Any Given Sunday)
What separates D’Amato from other coaches is his nakedness. He’s fully clothed, of course, but there’s no facade with this guy. He’s a broken man at the end of a long and tiring road and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. The person he presents to his players in their time of immense soul-searching is his true and tragic self and, in doing so, he challenges them to find something better in themselves, to implore them not to become what he has, to be better than they think they can be. But he also teaches how life, same as with football, is about inches, this way and that, and you do all you can do to accumulate every advantage you can and add ‘em up. Give everything you have—fight for every inch—and success will find you.
3. Pat Morita as Kesuke Miyagi (The Karate Kid)
Always be friendly to your neighbors. It’s a good rule for life, especially when you’ve just moved thousands of miles from home and are desperate to feel like you belong. With Mr. Miyagi, you learn not only about karate but about life and conflict resolution and aligning yourself with the right kind of people. (Also, painting.) In this way, a lot of his coaching becomes more applicable to life than what you’d get from your standard sideline screamer. He’s soft-spoken and can sometimes be a little, shall we say, cryptic? But he’s only looking out for your best interests and, with his age, you just know he’s seen some shit in his time. That counts for a lot—someone who’s known both good times and bad—and he doles out perspective as much as he does a way to win. With Miyagi on your side, you’re always the best around.
4. Emilio Estevez as Gordon Bombay (The Mighty Ducks)
Let’s get something straight: Bombay is kind of a dick. He’s a hugely successful attorney who is forced to coach a youth hockey team and, in doing so, must face the demons of the past he’s been running from for years. So he choked in the big game once? Big deal. His youth team can’t even sniff the local championship. But just when it seems like everything is lost, when this selfish soul is absolutely unredeemable, Bombay comes around and shows that no one is better suited to lead this team of do-nothings to greater heights. Yes, there’s personal redemption in it for him, too, but Bombay puts it all on the line for the Ducks and learns that sometimes you have to give it all up to get it all back. (And that it helps to have a triple deke to unleash at just the right time.)
5. Burgess Meredith as Mickey Goldmill (Rocky)
You’re a big-time prizefighter with a shot at the heavyweight title and you need to be in the best shape of your entire adult life and you’re … chasing a chicken around an alley? Surely, this can’t be the kind of training that’s going to result in a title belt, but Mick knows exactly what he’s doing. Chasing chickens is how they did it back in the old days, and dammit it’s still good enough for anyone else. He’s as old school as they come, but Mick has seen it all and knows how to accentuate an athlete’s strengths, even if that means teaching someone an entirely new way to compete. You won’t find any newfangled approaches with Mick in your corner, but he’ll bring in the best in you—no matter how many fowl you must corral.
6. Denzel Washington as Herman Boone (Remember the Titans)
Maybe the only thing harder than leading a group of united, like-minded underdogs to victory is trying to lead a group of utterly divided and disparate underdogs to victory. Boone faced such an obstacle when tasked with helping to lead an integrated high school football team at a time in this country when such a thing felt near-impossible. His trick is demanding perfection on the field and respect for each other away from it, and Boone accomplishes this by piecing the team together one part at a time from players’ personalities and motivations. In this way, the team’s singular identity is built solely from its individual parts, and everyone in that locker room becomes invested in the ultimate outcome. In this way, Boone delivers a result that required more legwork than your average coach. Yes, he wins as so many others do, but the degree of difficulty counts for something more.
7. Carl Weathers as Chubbs Peterson (Happy Gilmore)
You know what special coaches can do? Spot talent where no one else can. The hidden potential of a future star can lie right under the surface; it just takes a keen eye to see it and a sturdy hand to guide it forward. Well, Chubbs only has one hand but he puts it to great use. And even if you’ve only got a singular motivation—say, winning enough money to save your grandma’s house from repossession—Chubbs can lean on that and push you to your natural limits. In doing so, you can become capable of tremendous athletic feats in a comically short amount of time. As long as he stays away from alligator heads and open windows, Chubbs can take anyone all the way, even against all odds.
8. Samuel L. Jackson as Ken Carter (Coach Carter)
A lot of coaches simply care about winning and raising that championship trophy, but maybe they’ll forget about you the next day. Maybe once they get home from work and close their front door, you don’t matter as much to them. Not Coach Carter, though. His central thought is not about victories but about providing a better way through life for his high school players. He’ll tell you like it is—about the real world, about the stark realities of growing up in a tough neighborhood, about one’s chances of going to prison simply based on statistics—and then convince you it doesn’t have to be like that at all, that you control your destiny, both in sports and in life. High school can be a lonely and defeating time in one’s life, but Carter knows of what he speak, and when he says there’s hope in front of you, you can’t help but reflexively reach for it.