“Football coach” is an archetype every American is intuitively familiar with. Even if you’ve never had any interest in football, you’re familiar with the square jaws, the furrowed brows, the yelling, the performative intensity.
There is a way we expect football coaches to be and to appear, and if you were scouring the college football ranks for a real college football coach to play a football coach in the movies, these would be your guys.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans
For my money, nobody looks more like a quintessential football coach than Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, who helpfully has a personality to match. Dantonio is the guy you want if you need a character who catches a kid stealing from his garage, and instead of calling the cops, decides to teach the kid a life lesson, and then years later that kid becomes the best player this town has ever seen (but he’s still got some stuff to work out with his dad).
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona Wildcats
The only people left in the modern world who are still wearing visors are football coaches and elderly women at outdoor graduation ceremonies. And like Kliff Kingsbury’s Wayfarers, Kevin Sumlin’s visor is a key part of his whole career. He’d lose his mojo without it.
So that shoots him right up to the top third of the list, but it’s the intensity in his eyes and his folksy combativeness that would make him a great candidate for a character who has a good team but is under way more pressure than anyone realizes because of some problem at home that keeps growing bigger and bigger.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats
Finally, the square-jawed hero this town needs!
Pat Fitzgerald looks like what you picture in your head when somebody says “United States Marine.” In a war movie, Pat Fitzgerald is the idealistic Boy Scout Next Door type who gets killed in the most heart-wrenching way possible. In a football movie, he’s the idealistic Boy Scout Next Door type who has to make the tough decision to kick off the team’s best player right before the big game.
Turner Gill, Liberty Eagles
Everything Turner Gill says sounds like a line from an inspirational movie you’d buy in a Christian book store. Besides, he’s still got the arms of a Heisman Trophy winner and the stoic jaw of a Denzel Washington character.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina Tar Heels
Larry Fedora is even more jacked than Turner Gill, and although he’s the coach at fancy North Carolina, on the big screen he’d look right at home with a whistle between his teeth on some dusty outpost in Texas, where all the jobs are gone and the last hope for the town is a rag-tag football team that hasn’t had a winning season in decades, and this new coach, see, is gonna whip this team into shape like he did his own abs.
Herm Edwards, Arizona State Sun Devils
Sometimes it’s hard to believe Herm Edwards is a real person who actually goes around interacting with the world like that, but he does. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. He’s one of those people who is so … specific … that he could only portray, or be portrayed by, himself. He should be constantly making cameo appearances in sports movies.
Ed Orgeron, LSU Tigers
They say when Ed Orgeron was meeting the team for the first time after he’d been hired at Ole Miss, he got so fired up he ripped his shirt off right there in front of them to make a point, inspiring this excellent piece of SEC folk music.
Orgeron is a Looney Toons version of what a Southern football coach is. He’s definitely the right choice if you want the audience to laugh every time the coach talks — until that scene when it’s not funny, and becomes poignant.
Barry Odom, Missouri Tigers
Barry Odom has a look that would work for lots of different characters — World War II infantryman, Irish gangster, 19th century boxer. But if you ever needed a guy to play a high school football coach in Western Pennsylvania, you’d want a guy that looks a lot like Odom, especially if you had a scene where that coach gets in a fight, because man alive it looks like Barry Odom could throw (and take) a punch.
Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide
Saban is the definitive college football coach of his time, if not all time, and the fact that he is short in stature would only make him a more natural fit in Hollywood. There are others on this list with a more ideal appearance for the role, but none who embody the spirit of our imagination’s football coach like Saban.
The only trouble with Saban as a character is that it’s very difficult to imagine him losing, so whatever woes plague his character would have to manifest off the field.