Jamie Samuelsen: The Most Overrated Coach in Sports Movie History
Every year in March as the NCAA tournament revs up, I like to take a couple of hours and pop in the single greatest sports movie ever made.
I have the old VHS tape. I own the DVD. I’d love to buy it on Beta just to say that I owned every imaginable iteration of the movie. I remember the first time I saw Hoosiers in the theater with my Dad in 1987. I watched it dozens of time in college when you’re looking to do anything but study or go to class (Oddly, I didn’t graduate with honors.) I even kept score of the championship game one time to figure out what percentage of the Huskers points were scored by Jimmy Chitwood (Oddly, I didn’t have a girlfriend.) I’ve seen the movie so many times that I’ve even picked out some of the production mistakes. Like the fact that Buddy gets kicked off the team in the very first practice and his return to the team is never explained even though he’s clearly one of the most important players in the state title run. Or the fact that in the “picket fence” game, Rade makes the final steal, but when they cut back, it’s Buddy with the ball – and he calls the timeout for Dennis Hopper to set up the final play. Go ahead – go watch that and then get back to the blog. I’ve got time.
But the one thing that galls me more than anything else is the fact that Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) gets most of the credit for the Huskers win. Sure, they won. And when a team wins, the coach deserves at least some credit (other than Lloyd Carr who clearly had nothing to do with wins while he was at Michigan). But Dale was not a good game coach. He was not a good practice coach. In fact, I’d argue that the Huskers won the state title in spite of Norman Dale instead of because of him.
Consider the following facts from the movie.
1) The Huskers stunk until Chitwood decided to come back and play. Let’s face it. The moment Jimmy came back, the team started rolling. Dale is the Phil Jackson of Indiana basketball. He just aligns himself with the best player and then takes all the credit.
2) The Huskers were a perimeter team. That’s how they won. That’s why they won. The only decent inside players were Everett and Strap, and Strap only got off the bench in the second to last game. Way to work the bench coach.
3) That district game kills me. Strap goes in only because the stitches come out in Everett’s shoulder (And of course Dale insists that the doctor “patch him up” – what a tyrant). Strap immediately scores two quick baskets to spur the comeback. So what does Dale do? He calls timeout to pour cold water on the rally. Then he tells Strap to stop shooting. Brilliant.
4) The championship game is Dale at his best…or worst. The Huskers have the ball and a chance to win the game, and he calls a play that doesn’t include Chitwood. Yep, read that again. It would be like Jordan, Kobe or Bird being used as a decoy in a quest to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Thankfully, Jimmy uttered one of his one or two lines of the entire movie. “I’ll make it.” And he did. To save the season, and save Coach Dale’s reputation. Can you imagine sports talk radio in Hickory the morning after Dale called the final play for someone OTHER than Jimmy Chitwood. It would not have been pleasant.
Look. I love Hoosiers. I clearly love it too much to take apart the plot to such minutiae. But think about what I wrote, watch it again – and tell me if the Huskers wouldn’t have been better off with John Kuester or George Irvine coaching the team. Okay, even I’ll admit that’s taking it too far.