With the Super Bowl fast approaching, we thought we’d take a look at some of Hollywood’s favorite coaches, whose real-life achievements inspired big-screen biopics. Does the Patriots’ Bill Belichick or the Giants’ Tom Coughlin stack up to these film inspirations? You decide!
Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell
“Do you believe in miracles?” In 1980, the United States was in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, whose Olympic ice hockey team had won the gold medal every year since 1964. After being one of the last players cut from the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team in 1960—missing a gold medal and a rare U.S. Olympic victory—Herb Brooks was named coach of the United States team for the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. Even though the whole world considered him the underdog, Brooks assembled a team that would go on to defeat the Soviet Union, and win the gold medal. Herb Brooks’ triumph is now considered the “Miracle on Ice.”
Jim Ellis, played by Terrance Howard
Math teacher Jim Ellis saw the need to transform his community and instill pride in young people. Working at a Philadelphia recreation center in the early 1970s, he invited students to take up swimming for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, and formed the first African-American swim team. Since 1992, his program has been sending swimmers to the U.S. Olympic trials every year. He’s also coached some of the sport’s top athletes—with one of his athletes, Michael Norment, becoming the first black swimmer on the U.S. National swim team.
Marvin Wood, portrayed by Gene Hackman as “Norman Dale”
At the age of 24, Marvin Wood descended upon the small town of Milan, Indiana, to coach the Milan High School basketball team. With an enrollment of only 161 students, Wood and his team faced tough competition from larger, urban schools. The team’s strength, dedication and inventive plays paid off, when Wood led them to a victory at the state championship in 1954, proving that the underdog should never be underestimated.
Coach Carter (2005)
Ken Carter, played by Samuel L. Jackson
A coach of many sports, Ken Carter is most remembered for benching his best players due to poor academic records while coaching high school basketball. By teaching his team invaluable lessons of respect, integrity and hard work, he became an inspiration to all. In 2002, he carried the Olympic Torch for the winter Olympics.
Without Limits (1998)
Bill Bowerman, played by Donald Sutherland
A veteran of WWII, Bill Bowerman became the head track coach at the University of Oregon, where he coached some of the biggest superstars of track—including prodigy runner Steve Prefontaine. His athletes became known as the “Track Men of Oregon,” and he coached the United States Olympic Track and Field team at the Munich games in 1972. His years as a track coach helped make him aware of what athletes needed in footwear, and he eventually became one of the founders of Nike, Inc.
We Are Marshall (2006)
Jack Lengyel, played by Matthew McConaughey
After most of the players and head coach of West Virginia’s Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in 1970, the grief of the community almost led to the end of the school’s football program. University President Donald Deadmon, persuaded by students to rebuild the team, brought in coach Jack Lengyel. He combined current players; freshman; and athletes from other sports to form a team that inspired sports fans. That year, the team beat their biggest rival, in what once seemed an impossible victory.
Remember the Titans (2000)
Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington
In 1971, Herman Boone served as the head football coach at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. At a time of racial tension, he built an integrated team with the help of a white assistant coach. He inspired his players to work together regardless of race, and they won the Virginia State Championship at the end of the season.
Jimmy Murphy, played by David Tennant
As chief coach of Manchester United, Jimmy Murphy scouted and trained youth soccer players, developing many of them into professional footballers. These players then went on to fill the Manchester roster, under the direction of head coach Matt Busby. But when most of the “Busby Babes” were killed in the 1958 Munich Air disaster, and Busby was recovering from injuries related to the accident, Murphy was left to assemble a substitute team. He coached a group that, against all odds, made it to the FA Cup Final, later that same year.
The Bronx is Burning (2007)
Billy Martin, played by John Turturro
A city-wide blackout, massive unemployment, and a serial killer on the loose made the summer of 1977 a volatile time in New York City. Billy Martin, the manager of the New York Yankees, was under immense pressure to not only produce a winning team for hard-headed, opinionated owner George Steinbrenner, but to also bring the World Championship back to the Bronx.
Brash and angry at times, Martin duked it out with umpires; sparred with superstar Reggie Jackson; and fought Steinbrenner in order to manage the team to victory. As a result, the 1977 New York Yankees became a symbol for a city climbing back to the top.