In the South, no one talks about the Lakers, which may be the most common conversational topic in Los Angeles. Instead, folks are obsessed with college football and basketball, which I know nothing about (the same can be said of most of the subjects I will discuss on this site). That was the case when my wife and I arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama while driving out to Georgia when we first moved here. Flying cockroaches greeted us at the initial motel we stopped at. We didn’t stay there, but I had noticed several photos of a man in a suit wearing an odd hat on the wall of the reception area. In the next motel, I saw the same photo and a plaque of the man overlooking the reception. I had to ask “Who is he?” The motel receptionist looked somewhat stunned as if I had asked who that rotund fellow with the red suit and the white beard holding the presents was. “That’s Paul Bear Bryant,” she said, “the legendary football coach.” “Wow, legendary,” I thought, “I’ve never heard of him.” Well, I still don’t know fuck-all about Paul Bear Bryant or the Crimson Tide, other than that they are a real big ass deal in Alabama, with stores dedicated to their glory in woebegone Alabama malls and bumper stickers on the back of jalopies with Alabama plates.
But I believe my fascination with tough-as-nails college coaches who inspire troubled youngsters to win national championships began with Bear Bryant and continued when I read something about Bobby Knight, the emotional basketball coach who once got so peeved that he threw a chair onto the basketball court in the middle of a game. From there, I happened to catch both Coach Carter and Glory Road on television. Remarkably similar, both films focus on basketball coaches who won’t let their players have lives outside of practicing and winning. In Glory Road, the coach (played by the unfailingly awful Josh Lucas) forbids the players to hang around girls. Coach Carter (starring Samuel Jackson in a one-note performance) is such a dick he breaks into a party and drags his players out of the hot tub. After 5,000 push-ups and one million suicides, the players journey down that glorious road to triumph and national championships of some sort. The coaches, based on real life stubborn assholes, are celebrated for their totalitarian vision, tearing these troubled youths away from distractions like girls and having fun and teaching them the fundamentals of the game and how to win it to soaring violins at the end.
I think the idea of righteous asshole coach could be taken to even further extremes. Rather than not letting them touch the ball for the first few weeks, while they are learning defense (as is the case in one or both of these movies), I think the coach should not let them touch the ball in the first ten games, so they learn the fundamentals of how to defend and aren’t distracted by needless frivolities like scoring. I like the idea of a college coach who throttles his players when they dare smile at a girl after the game. (Though, isn’t getting laid supposed to be one of the key benefits of being a jock? Otherwise, why not join the Chess Club?)
The college coach who becomes “a legend” should be intense and unwavering, but also Hitleresque. The kids have it too easy nowadays with their iPods and their bling bling and their being allowed to associate with girls.