The 20 Grumpiest Old Men in Sports
We pretend we hate them, but secretly, they're a big part of what makes the sports world so entertaining.
Think about how boring some matchups would be without the added mystique of cantankerous old coaches. The Patriots' postgame press conferences would be so utterly boring. Greg Popovich's sideline chats with reporters would be mundane.
We always get plenty of in-game entertainment, but sometimes, the best storylines evolve out of the things that happen on the sidelines. And the irritable coaches, front office officials and occasional commentators are the ones who gift us with those storylines.
These guys may be old and cranky, but they make the sports world go 'round.
20. John McEnroe
When you listen to John McEnroe call a tennis match, you can feel the negative energy seeping through the airwaves.
Back during his playing days, you could always count on him for a good tantrum or several. When the thing for which you're most well known is going ballistic on the court, you know you've done something right (at least as far as entertainment value is concerned).
And it's gotten even worse in his older age. These days, in his commentating work, he always sounds unhappy. Maybe it's just the natural sound of his voice, but either way, it's hilarious (especially when he's calling a match in which Andy Murray is involved).
McEnroe never holds back. If he thinks a certain player is faking an injury just to give himself a few extra moments to collect him or herself, he'll come right out with it. And that is what makes the best kind of commentator.
19. Hulk Hogan
To be fair, if everyone in my family was certifiably insane and dating people half their ages, I would probably be cranky, too.
Hulk Hogan is one of those people who can't seem age with grace. He still dresses and acts the same way he did 25 years ago, which means we're still seeing lots of neon spandex, general shirtlessness and luscious bleach-blond locks. But people don't feel the same way about Hogan now as they did during his heyday, when he earned 12 wrestling world championships.
Back then, Hogan's anger was part of his shtick. These days, he's just old and irritable, mostly due to the disaster that is his personal life. Of late, the drama has stemmed from Gawker's attempt to leak a sex tape featuring Hogan and the wife of his best friend, Bubba the Love Sponge (real guy). And how did Hogan respond? A lawsuit, of course.
You gotta do what you gotta do to protect your sterling reputation.
18. Former CFL Players
You have to figure that by the time they're 70 or 80 years old, even Terrell Suggs and the Patriots will be able to let go of any lingering beef they're currently dealing with. You have to figure that at a certain point, when your career has been over for 40-ish years, you can move on from the past.
These guys, however, cannot.
Back in 2011, the Canadian Football League held a friendly luncheon honoring former players. It was a lovely afternoon until two of those players got into it over a hit that happened a half-decade earlier, according to The Washington Post. One of the guys tried to make a "peace offering" to the other, and he was denied—and from there, tempers flared.
Flailing, slapping and hitting with canes ensued. Watch at your own risk.
17. Lou Piniella
Sometimes, the crankiest old coaches are the most sought-after coaches, especially when they're charged with handling young teams with lots of potential. Those types of coaches are seen as the guys with the experience and the toughness necessary to get the absolute best out of their players.
That was the theory with Lou Piniella. He was one of the winningest managers in MLB history and he shaped the Seattle Mariners into a successful, worthwhile franchise in nearly a decade with the team, so the thinking was, why couldn't he do the same with teams like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or the Chicago Cubs?
Part of Sweet Lou's charm was that he was absolutely unforgiving on and off the field. He was tough and intense and wholeheartedly unafraid to rip into anyone—his players, the umpires, the media. He may not lead the MLB in ejections, but his temper was a force to behold, and that was part of what made him so good as a manager.
Sometimes, you need to be feared to be respected.
16. Mike Krzyzewski
It's hard to believe that Coach K could possibly have anything to be cranky about. He's been the coach of one of the most storied, successful college basketball programs in the country over the last 30-ish years. He's won four NCAA tournaments and is the winningest coach in college basketball history. He always seems to get his hands on the best recruits in the nation, year in and year out.
Mike Krzyzewski isn't as obviously grumpy as some of the others on this list; he's sneaky-grumpy. Outwardly, he seems to be a fine guy, but as Duke haters love to point out, he kind of embodies everything that most people despise about that program and its fanbase. Many of those who support the Dukies are seen as elitist and conceited and obnoxious, and at times, Coach K has reflected those very sentiments. He even gets feisty at times.
But really, it's the pretentious attitude that makes Coach K seem like a grumpy, judgmental curmudgeon, kind of like a real-life William Van Der Bilt.
15. Larry Lucchino
Across Major League Baseball, Larry Lucchino is viewed as one of the most despicable front office officials out there. Underneath it all, he's probably not a bad guy. The problem he runs into is that whenever he makes a public appearance, he has an inordinately hard time proving that he is remotely human.
Lucchino, the current president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, saw the team flourish under his watch—but even back when the Red Sox were winning, he still couldn't seem to.
He was blamed for GM Theo Epstein's brief resignation back in 2005, just one season after Boston won its first World Series since 1918. He's been called overbearing and controlling, and even former manager Terry Francona wrote in his book that he cared too much about the wrong things.
Could Lucchino do himself a favor by being just a tiny bit more personable when he appears before the media? Sure. But that's just not in his nature.
14. Sir Alex Ferguson
When David Beckham is scared of you, you know that you are one scary old dude.
Sir Alex Ferguson has achieved plenty of success at the helm of Manchester United, but it hasn't always come easy. And when it's not easy, this is not someone who can hide it. Old Trafford's Alexander Buttner told The Sun back in December that he has "never met anyone who gets as utterly furious" as Ferguson. Beckham told the Telegraph, "It still scares me when I watch him on telly."
It's not only the in-game tantrums that have made Ferguson so infamous for being mean. There's also the fact that he tries to mess with opposing managers by playing mind games and making intentionally inflammatory comments about them during press appearances in the hopes that he gets in their heads.
As far as mean old guys are concerned, this guy is a pro. You have to admire his preparation.
13. Donald Sterling
Donald Sterling doesn't have a lot of fans in the NBA and beyond. It was a lot easier to hate on him when the Clippers were consistently one of the most underachieving teams in the league. But even now that they're good, he still offers plenty of ammunition.
Sterling is constantly in the news for the wrong reasons: He had to pay a multi-million dollar fine in 2005 as part of a settlement in response to claims that he engaged "discriminatory practices" against certain races. He's been sued multiple times for sexual harassment. He has been known for heckling his own players—because we all know how productive that is. Most recently, he was ordered to pay millions of dollars "as a result of his negligence as a landlord," according to Yahoo!.
It doesn't seem like we need much more evidence to prove that Sterling isn't exactly a gem to be around.
12. Bo Pelini
He's been described as "volcanic" and has been chided by his employer for his epic bouts of rage. You know you're a new breed of cranky when your boss has to issue a statement saying you're a poor reflection on your institution.
Still, because he's been pretty successful as a head football coach, his...eccentricities are dealt with.
Pelini, who has accumulated a 49-20 record at Nebraska, is well known for his fiery sideline demeanor. Sometimes, his own players are the beneficiaries and others, the referees are. He has berated officials and he has berated his quarterbacks. Once, when Pelini went ballistic because his team was issued 16 penalties for 145 yards in a horrendous loss to Texas A&M, Nebraska's chancellor felt the need to address the issue, saying that Pelini's behavior was "unfortunate."
But still. At least in his case, the passion translates into success, for the most part.
11. Tony La Russa
When you're a three-time World Series champion, you're allowed to be a little bit excitable in the dugout.
Tony La Russa is renowned in the baseball world and is a legend in Oakland and in St. Louis, where he won his titles. He's kind of like Coach K. He's revered for his success, but at the same time, fans of other teams aren't that into him because they aren't into his pretentiousness. Some have even very vocally accused him of making his All-Star Game picks based on favoritism and a dislike for certain Cubs players.
Last summer, Dusty Baker said that La Russa failed to select a couple of his players to the All-Star squad because of the Cubs-Cardinals brawl of 2010. And La Russa reacted as any crotchety and defensive old manager would: by shaming Baker for "attacking his integrity."
Leave it up to La Russa to respond with even more pretension when backed into a corner.
10. Nolan Ryan
Nolan Ryan never looks happy. Even when he's happy, he's frowning. Apparently, being an eight-time All-Star, a World Series champion and one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball didn't do much for his overall disposition.
Now, as the owner, president and CEO of the Texas Rangers, Ryan is just as infamous for being grouchy as he ever was.
But according to him, his demeanor served him well during his pitching days: He once said, "It helps if the hitter thinks you're a little crazy."
Maybe he's on to something.
9. Tom Coughlin
Here, we have one of the few examples of a reformed grump. And in this case, being happy and relaxed turned out to be far more beneficial to his career than being a sullen old grouch.
For a long time, Tom Coughlin was infamous for being surly. A recent New York Times article referred to his approach as "militaristic" and "humorless" and claimed that his harsh coaching style nearly led to his dismissal from the New York Giants in 2006.
But sometime around then, there was a change. Coughlin relaxed a little bit. He tried to find ways to relate to his players who could not, for the life of them, relate to him. And you know what happened next: two Super Bowl victories in four years.
As a Patriots fan, I often find myself longingly wondering what would have happened if Coughlin had stuck to his guns and remained a grumbling curmudgeon. Unfortunately, he didn't.
8. Mike Ditka
Since entering into retirement, Mike Ditka has definitely became a lovable grump. The commercials help. So do his commentating duties.
But during his days as a player and as a coach, his brusque behavior wasn't quite so charming.
The thing you have to admire about Ditka is that there was absolutely nothing in the world he hated as much as losing. His obsession with winning and being the best is what turned him into such an insufferable (yet hilarious) human being when another team or coach got the best of him.
However, as a coach of a professional football team, you have a certain responsibility to the media. No, really—it's pretty much a contractual obligation. So when a reporter asks you who your starting quarterback is going to be, you kind of have to answer them. When someone asks you about your injury report, you kind of have to make that information available.
Be as surly as you want, but that's the way it works.
7. John Tortorella
John Tortorella doesn't exactly leave anyone with the warm and fuzzies—especially the media.
The New York Rangers coach hates the media and makes absolutely no secret of it. But here's a thought: What did the media ever do to him? Is there a reason reporters are deserving of such ire from the crotchety coach?
Tortorella has shown us flashes of humanity, but for the most part, he's been incredibly, unreasonably curt with the media since he became coach of the Rangers in 2009. This is a guy who snaps, "None of your business," when a journalist asks him a perfectly reasonable question about the health of one of his players. And when the Rangers lose? Don't expect Tortorella to answer for it.
Denver Post columnist Adrian Dater put it best when he wrote during last year's playoff run:
Grow up. The coaches who came before you, who at least had the decency to look their fellow man in the eye and answer a question without some little roll-of-the-eyes farce, would be ashamed of you right now.
6. Nick Saban
It's no secret that Nick Saban doesn't exactly have the best reputation in the sports universe. "The emperor of college football," as he's been called, is an excellent recruiter, a mastermind on the sideline and the victor in the last two consecutive national championships. But his ethics? Questionable.
Remember how he ended up at Alabama: He was at the helm of the Miami Dolphins, told the press specifically that he wouldn't be the head coach of the Crimson Tide and yet was crowned the head coach of the Crimson Tide less than two weeks later, according to Yahoo! Sports' Michael Silver. So clearly, you can't exactly take him at his word. He's looking out for him.
Then, there's his occasionally erratic behavior when he doesn't like the questions tossed to him by sideline reporters in the midst of a game. See Exhibit A, above. He may come of as congenial and charming at times, but he's just as grumpy as the rest.
But how can you be grumpy when you've won two straight national titles?
5. Gregg Popovich
Compared with some of the others on this list, Gregg Popovich is a peach. And that's saying something.
First and foremost, Popovich is renowned for being one of the best coaches in the NBA, for being able to turn any team—no matter how underachieving or injury-riddled—into a contender and for leading the San Antonio Spurs to four NBA championships from 1999-2007.
But he is also known for using his anger as a foolproof motivational tool. Apparently, even Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are so terrified of testing Pop's temper that he can scare them into winning. Popovich is also infamous for having absolutely no patience for the media; if he doesn't feel like talking, he won't, and if he thinks you're dressed like a clown, he will drive the point home until you admit defeat.
4. Jim Boeheim
There is a certain level of respect you achieve once you have become one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball, and Jim Boeheim has certainly achieved that stature. So perhaps he gets a free pass for his frequently crotchety behavior.
The Syracuse head coach has built a championship team, has over 900 wins to his name and has a squad that always seems to be in the mix in the Big East, but judging by his disposition, his life is far from perfect. Just look at how he reacted when ESPN's Andy Katz tried to ask him a question in a press conference a couple of weeks ago.
Boeheim, out of nowhere, called the nationally renowned college basketball writer and "idiot" and a "disloyal person"—ostensibly because of an interview gone wrong about Bernie Fine last year—but in the process, he made it clear that he is not a man to be messed with.
3. Bob Knight
Bob Knight takes grumpy to a new extreme. He is downright mean. Remarkably mean. Choke-your-own-player mean.
If there is one sports figure that is renowned for being universally terrifying to everyone in the world—players, other coaches, media members, newborn babies—this is the guy. Whether he uses his demeanor as a motivational tactic or whether it's just an unavoidable, indelible component of his personality remains unclear.
But you can probably get a good indication from the choking thing, or by the time he threw a chair onto the court (above), or by the allegation that he physically accosted a player by referring to him as "Knight" instead of "Mr. Knight" or "Coach Knight," an incident that eventually led to his dismissal from Indiana University.
Like so many of the others on this list, however, Knight gets away with it because he won three NCAA titles and won over 900 games during his career.
2. Bill Parcells
Before Bill Belichick came to the forefront, Bill Parcells was nationally regarded as the meanest man in all of sports—and what do you know? Belichick learned his ways from the pro himself.
Their tactics for humiliating and thus gaining the respect of players are remarkably similar. They take no-nonsense to a new extreme. According to journalist Juliet Macur, Parcells has perfected the art of using intimidation to put his players in line. He reportedly refused to call Terrell Owens by his given name—he was that intent on avoiding inflating the diva-esque wide receiver's ego.
He also, according to Macur, told one overworked player who threw up during some particularly rigorous drills to vomit "on his own time."
But like some of the greatest motivators in sports, Parcells' tactics clearly worked: He won two Super Bowls and was voted into the Hall of Fame last month.
1. Bill Belichick
Maybe I'm biased because I'm from New England and thus his antics are a constant topic of conversation, but I think you'd have a hard time convincing anyone that there exists a crankier, more curmudgeonly person in the sports world than Bill Belichick.
The Patriots head coach is infamously surly, and nobody gets a free pass from him—not even his own players. In fact, if you are a Patriot and you screw up—whether the team won by 50 or lost by 50—Belichick will make you pay for your mistake. He will make you watch your mistake during that week's first film session, on a loop, until he feels you have been sufficiently humiliated.
The media doesn't get off easy, either. If Belichick thinks you have wasted his time by asking him a stupid question, he will make it abundantly clear. And of course, we all know how he feels about his former colleagues who have betrayed him. Just ask Eric Mangini.
But hey. You can be as mean as you want if you win as much as Belichick does.