Imagining College Football's Top Coaches as Famous Movie Characters
The most recognizable face associated with any college football team is its coach, the man in charge of all those helmet-clad behemoths behind him and the one they all turn to for guidance and leadership.
If we didn't know any better, you'd think the coach is like the star of a movie or something. Hey, that's got us thinking...
If college football coaches were cast as iconic movie characters, who would they portray? It might be based on their personality and demeanor, maybe their appearance, possibly because of their sideline antics. Whatever the case, there's something about each of the top coaches in college football that remind us of a certain well-known film character.
Take a look at our casting list, then give us your own suggestions in the comments section.
Brian Kelly as Rudy
The story of Rudy Ruettiger is part of the long tradition of Notre Dame football, and the version that was portrayed in the movie Rudy has become an inspiration for many people who were told they weren't good enough to do something they dreamed of doing.
In a lot of ways this patterns the coaching career of Brian Kelly, Notre Dame's current head coach.
Kelly was a four-year player for Assumption College in Massachusetts, and he went straight from playing to being an assistant at his alma mater. From there he went on to become an assistant at Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he eventually became head coach in 1991. Kelly coached there for 13 seasons, winning 118 games and claiming Division II national championships in his final two years, before getting a shot at Division I.
Since then he's been steadily moving up the coaching ranks, first getting Central Michigan into a bowl game after three seasons, then moving to Cincinnati where he got 10-plus wins in each of his three years. Kelly got the Bearcats into their first-ever BCS bowl game in 2009 but left to take the Notre Dame job prior to the Sugar Bowl.
At Notre Dame, he's helped re-energize one of the nation's most storied programs, getting the Fighting Irish into the BCS national championship game after the 2012 season.
Sure, Rudy had to overcome dyslexia and a height disadvantage, but the arc Kelly's career has taken feels somewhat Rudy-like.
Kliff Kingsbury as Noah (The Notebook)
This one kind of speaks for itself.
Kliff Kingsbury, the dreamy young coach for Texas Tech, has so often been compared to Ryan Gosling in appearance that it's only fitting he would be cast in Gosling's most famous role.
All we really know about the character, Noah, is that he's adored by fans of The Notebook (and the Nicholas Sparks novel it was based on) and that there's a very famous scene involving he and Rachel McAdams kissing in the rain.
So, naturally, we had to find the best picture available of Kingsbury getting wet. This one came in the waning moments of Texas Tech's romp over Arizona State in last year's Holiday Bowl...but notice how Kingsbury's perfect hair somehow avoided mussing.
Beyond just the resemblance, Kingsbury has developed a reputation of being the subject of much flirting from the single mothers of high school football players he's recruited over the years. And considering Gosling is among the top young heartthrobs in Hollywood, it's only natural to further link these two.
Mike Leach as Captain Jack Sparrow
Mike Leach is a man of many interests, not just turning around college football programs.
And while he's gotten plenty of attention for what he accomplished at Texas Tech—and what he's in the midst of doing at Washington State—the thing about Leach that maybe sets him apart from all other coaches is his fondness for historical subjects.
He's written a book about Geronimo, and he has a deep fascination and appreciation for the life of pirates. So, naturally, he'd be a perfect person to portray Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Sparrow is a cooky sort who seems to be playing to a tune that only he can hear. This is much like how Leach operates as a football coach.
While other pass-happy coaches still try to be diverse with their offense, Leach instead figures if you can't beat them by throwing the ball, then...throw the ball more. It's how WSU quarterback Connor Halliday set the FBS record for most pass attempts in a game (89) last year in a blowout loss to Oregon.
Leach is also very outspoken and not worried about what others might think of his actions, which is exactly the kind of mentality you need to have to reportedly cuss out the Big 12 Conference commissioner—via cell phone—during the middle of a game in 2007.
Now, we're not exactly sure how refined Leach's swordfighting skills are, but considering his autobiography is titled Swing Your Sword there's a good chance he can hold his own against Captain Barbossa.
Gus Malzahn as Gordon Gekko
Gus Malzahn came from humble beginnings, spending the first 15 years of his coaching career in the high school ranks. He finally got his shot at a college job in 2006, when Houston Nutt brought him on at Arkansas.
The rest has been a meteoric rise not unlike what Michael Douglas' character experienced in Wall Street.
Gordon Gekko became one of the most powerful men in the world of stock trading, and once he got to the top he'd do anything to stay there. His famous phrase: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."
This isn't to suggest Malzahn plans to break rules to stay on top, but now that he's turned Auburn from an SEC doormat into a burgeoning juggernaut, he's not likely to just sit back and assume it will all stay that way. He's a hard worker, and is driven to improve on the 2013 season that saw Auburn reach the national title game.
Gekko was eventually taken down by his own greed, but despite his approach the passion and dedication were evident. It's what we see in Malzahn, and it's why we expect the Tigers to be a perennial title contender instead of a one-hit wonder.
Les Miles as The Mad Hatter
When trying to cast a basketball movie and looking for real-like athletes, it makes sense to go after athletes from that sport who can play the role. It's how NBA star Ray Allen became Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game.
And when a college football coach has a nickname like "The Mad Hatter," well, it's not hard to figure out what character he could play in film.
Les Miles has developed that nickname because of his willingness to take risks and do things in games that might seem crazy. Until they work exactly as planned, making Miles look like a mad genius. The "hatter" part just sounds better, since Miles regularly wears a hat on the sidelines.
The LSU coach would probably give Johnny Depp's rendition of the Mad Hatter a run for his money both in terms of antics and personality but as well as off-the-cuff lines. For instance, if Depp had run a red light while being filmed and interviewed by an ESPN reporter, would he have been able to "anticipate the change" to green?
Miles seems like he'd have an answer for any question, and thus drive those around him mad. It's what the Hatter is known for, and Miles would play that part perfectly.
Bo Pelini as Blofeld (James Bond Movies)
Bo Pelini had an angle on a completely different part until a few weeks ago, when he decided to bring his cat to Nebraska's spring football game. That kind of bold move showed us this fiery and intense coach had the chops to play more than just a run-of-the-mill villain in a movie.
He's achieved supervillain status. Add in the cat angle, and you get Ernst Stavro Blofeld, one of the most iconic foils of the James Bond film series.
Blofeld, who appeared in numerous films (and whose face wasn't shown in those first two movies), was as well known for his atrocities and desire for world domination as he was for his cat, which he'd maddeningly stroke while discussing his evil plans.
Sure, all Pelini has done is re-enact a scene from Lion King in front of tens of thousands of Cornhuskers fans and ask the parody version of himself on Twitter for his cat back. But that was enough to link him to Blofeld, along with the added bonus that both can get a little heated at times.
Rich Rodriguez as Jack Traven (Speed)
Most of the coaches on this list are being connected to a famous movie character through some series of similarities, both striking and flimsy.
Then there's Rich Rodriguez, who actually has portrayed one, all in the name of defending how his teams play football.
After word got out the the NCAA was considering a proposed rule that would ban offenses from snapping the ball in the first 10 seconds of the play clock, many coaches spoke out against this motion.
But Rodriguez took it a step further, playing the role of the police officer that Keanu Reeves made famous in the 1990s action movie Speed. In the short film above, Rodriguez steps into Reeves' shoes to not only save Sandra Bullock from a mad bomber, but to also explain why trying to slow down up-tempo offenses is an affront to the modern game.
The 10-second rule never came to fruition, but Rodriguez's acting skills will live on forever thanks to You Tube. If his latest job at Arizona doesn't work out, RichRod could use the clip as part of his resume for a career in Hollywood.
Steve Spurrier as The Joker
Only if there was an iconic movie character called The Troll would there be a better fit for Steve Spurrier, the most famous jokester in college football.
Spurrier continues to do at South Carolina what he did for years at Florida, and we don't just mean win a lot of games. He's forged a cottage industry for taking tongue-in-cheek shots at his rivals, dating back to him dubbing rival Florida State as "Free Shoes University."
He's still at it, just recently picking on Tennessee and Alabama for liking to play each other every year despite Tennessee losing seven straight to the Crimson Tide.
These jabs aren't anything nearly as malicious as what The Joker did to unsuspecting Gotham residents over the years, whether that be the stuff done by characters portrayed by Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson in the movies, or on TV by Cesar Romero. But they have led to a similar kind of sting, one that has helped forge Spurrier's reputation over the years beyond just what he's able to do between the lines.
Bob Stoops as President Whitmore (Independence Day)
Bob Stoops has oozed a Midwestern charm and demeanor throughout his career, and since becoming a head coach at Oklahoma in 1999 it's become as synonymous with him as his many, many wins.
When he gets in front of a microphone, this personality comes out even further, almost as if you've been transformed to his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. It's how we feel when we watch the scenes involving Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day.
Though that character's backstory doesn't get much play—for fear of bogging down the plot and drawing attention away from the aliens laying waste to Earth—there's still that wholesome feel to Whitmore that just feels like what you'd expect from a small-town football coach.
Stoops isn't at the helm of such a team, but he is the only game in town in Norman, if not most of the Sooner State. And like Whitmore, he's got that way of motivating without having to resort to tricks or screaming.
Most college football coaches have the respect of a large number of people, but not all of them seem the type that could depict the leader of the free world.
Nick Saban as The Godfather
Last, but certainly not least, we come to Nick Saban. He of the four national championships, the winning percentage at Alabama that's better than the legendary Bear Bryant, and the kind of pull that gets rules committees to consider changes simply by him speaking about them.
It's almost like he's in charge of the game. Kind of like The Godfather of college football.
The original Godfather, Vito Corleone, was played to perfection on the big screen by Marlon Brando. His character had everyone's ear, was respected by all, and if you dared to cross him, well...
When it comes to Saban, it's a lot simpler. If you dare to play him, odds are it's not going to be good. It's why Saban hasn't lost a game that wasn't in conference play or a bowl game since 2007.
If Corleone had lived in a world where he was made to speak at numerous press conferences, there's little doubt he'd approach these chores the way Saban does. Had we got to see Corleone (and by that we mean Brando) giving curt responses to tedious questions and possibly walking out on a media session, it might have somehow made The Godfather an even better cinematic masterpiece.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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