Jim Brandon (Robert Conrad) used to be a member of the Chicago Bears, until he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. While Jim was serving his country, he was wounded in battle and when he returns to the United States, he’s now in a wheelchair. With his playing days over, Jim still wants to put his athletic abilities to good use. When the Bears front office tells him that they want to place him in the PR department as a glorified mascot, Jim tells them to forget about it and then starts to search for any opportunity to work as a coach. Unfortunately, no one is willing to take a chance on a coach who can’t walk across the field.
While he looks for a job, Jim is living with his sister (Erin Gray) and her son, Andy (Ricky Paull Goldin). When Andy gets caught (not for the first time) breaking the law, he is sent to the local reform school. It’s while Jim is visiting his nephew that he notices that the students at the Illinois State Training School for Boys like to play football. Jim suggests that the school needs an official team and that he would be the perfect person to coach them.
At first, the boys are rebellious and refuse to show Jim any respect but Jim slowly wins them over. When a prep school’s football team visits the reform school and makes some snide remarks, Jim challenges them to a game. If Jim’s team wins, it will not only prove that Jim can coach but it will also give the members of the team a needed boost of self-respect. If Jim loses, he’ll get fired and his team will probably try to escape before boarding the bus back to reform school.
Coach of the Year was a TV movie and there’s nothing surprising about it. It’s a typical example of an “inspiring” sports film, where an underdog team is led to victory by an underdog coach. The two teams play each other twice in the movie and, just as surely as you’ll be able to guess who wins the first game, you’ll also be able to guess who manages to beat the odds and win the second game. The film’s main selling point is that Robert Conrad gives a good performance as Jim Brandon. Conrad is believable as both a coach, a former star athlete, and a man who is not yet prepared to surrender his pride. Though Jim’s clearly the hero, the movie doesn’t idealize him. Sometimes, Jim can be too stubborn for his own good. Supposedly, in real life, Conrad was always the celebrity who ended up taking his appearances on Battle Of The Network Stars too seriously and that’s the way that Conrad plays Jim. It doesn’t matter if his team is made up of a bunch of juvenile delinquents or that their games are just for exhibition. Jim’s determined to win.
Coach of the Year is on Amazon Prime. Unfortunately, Battle Of The Network Stars is not.