• Rough Cut Staff

Coach Me, Denzel


Denzel Washington is a very good coach.

I don’t know if Denzel Washington knows the ins and outs of sports. I don’t particularly care.

With a single look, Denzel makes me want to risk life and limb for something as trivial as a high school semi-final matchup.

Through the simple act of withholding praise, Denzel turns the cockiest jock into a blithering, prostrating boy.

And by offering the slightest hint of that trademark smile, Denzel Washington replaces an absentee father and turns amateur athletes into professional Young Men.

Denzel Washington is a very good coach.

It’s not just that Denzel fully inhabits his role as Coach Herman Boone (Remember the Titans), a very good coach in a very good movie. It’s that in John Q, a very ill-advised movie about a man who takes hospital staff hostage in an attempt to get his son a heart transplant, he doesn’t so much as violently threaten a doctor as he does coach him to figure out a way to get his son a heart. Another actor would have threatened. Denzel coaches with a gun.

And it’s certainly not only that Denzel shines as Coach Melvin Tolson (The Great Debaters), another very good coach in a not-so-good movie (he can play a coach no matter how good your movie is!). It’s that in Deja Vu, when a big-brained scientist and a bigger-brained Val Kilmer make a poor attempt to explain the intricacies of time travel, Denzel shuts them up. “No,” he says, and I’m paraphrasing a great deal, “That’s not how you explain something to someone. I don’t understand the play at all. You’re being a bad coach. Be a better coach. Draw up the play. Make a diagram. Use a visual. Get me to understand the problem. That’s how you motivate me to solve the problem.” Don’t look it up, it’s pretty close to the actual dialogue. Anyway, then the big-brained scientist is inspired to use a piece of paper as a beautifully simple metaphor. Thus, Denzel Washington is such a good coach that he can coach other people into becoming good coaches.

Denzel’s best role as a coach is as a father, in He Got Game. He’s tough, merciless, but filled with love. Denzel as an actor as a father is the same as Denzel as an actor as a coach; it’s why he’s so good at both. He’s flawed in a distinctly human way, and he carries a sturdy weight with him at all times. I hate Denzel as Jake Shuttlesworth and I love Denzel as Jake Shuttlesworth, which is exactly the way I have felt toward my best coaches. And exactly like how we've all felt at times about our parents. That's great acting.

Never stop coaching, Denzel. We need you.