If you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, like I did, then you should know what these three people have to do with each other: John Davidson, Fran Tarkenton, and Cathy Lee Crosby. Yep, they hosted that bizarre ABC series “That’s Incredible!” It was a show where they featured all sorts of strange people and behaviors. One episode even featured the achievements of a 5-year old Tiger Woods. I rarely watched the show. To be honest, it kind of scared me. One show I did catch that freaked me out was one that featured a very tall African-American contortionist who folds himself up and crawls into a tiny clear plastic box. Something about seeing his face and limbs pressed up against the plastic gave me the willies. Ironically, in my adult life, I have actually seen someone I think may be this same individual stuff himself into a box in person. He seems to live here in Colorado and is one of the frequent buskers on Boulder’s Pearle Street. But let’s forget about contortionists for a moment, what we’re here to talk about is Cathy Lee Crosby. I’d never known her from anything but “That’s Incredible!” Though she’s appeared in a number of other programs, including the 1974 pre-Lynda Carter TV movie “Wonder Woman.” Most of her work has been on television, but today we look at one of her few big-screen efforts, 1978’s “Coach.”
Crosby plays Randy Rawlings, a former Olympic champion runner now working as an aerobics instructor. Meanwhile, the Granger High School basketball team is struggling. Now, it seems that the school is named for a wealthy local family, and the patriarch, Fenton Granger (Keenan Wynn) takes a great deal of interest in the team. Especially since his grandson Bradley (Channing Clarkson) is one of the players. So Granger sets out to find a new coach. He becomes impressed with the application of one Randy Rawlings, who he assumes is male. She is offered the job…but it’s only after the fact that Granger learns her gender. With her threatening a lawsuit if the offer is rescinded, Granger has no choice but to let her coach the team. However, he does plot to make things difficult for her. Now, exactly what makes an Olympic runner qualified to coach basketball is never really made clear…but let’s just ignore that.
Now the team, The Stallions, is a rag-tag bunch, though there’s not really much that stands out about any of the characters. Jack (Michael Biehn) is the star player. There’s also Ned (Jack David Walker) who is super tall and struggling with his studies. As a matter of fact, in one sequence, Jack and a buddy hypnotize Ned so that he can pass an important test. Another member of the team is the nerdy Ralph (Steve Nevil), who you can’t help but wonder how he made the team in the first place.
Randy starts to whip the team into shape, but it’s not easy. Her coaching style doesn’t seem all that complicated. It basically consists of holding a clipboard, blowing a whistle, and going bra-less. In the beginning, all the team does is joke and drop sexual innuendos. Though, she does manage to bring in NBA star Sidney Wicks to help teach them a thing or two. The team starts to band together around their coach when they go to their first away game. The opposing team is there to greet their bus with their own barrage of inappropriate comments for the female coach. The team rushes to her defense and a fight breaks out, causing the game to be forfeited. After this, Granger is quick to want to fire Randy. But she makes a deal with him that she will resign after they lose their first game. Granger, figuring that won’t take long, agrees.
Now, at the same time, it becomes clear that Jack has the hots for the coach. He starts flirting with her on the bus trip, and she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. Later he intentionally bumps into her at the beach near her home, and she’s not bothered by this. The two frolic in the surf, and she’s not bothered by that. And then it’s back to her house, where they giggle and eat hamburgers. See where this is going? Yup, it doesn’t take long for a relationship to start. The two even enjoy a shower together in the boys locker room after practice one day.
Nobody seems to notice what’s going on between the coach and her star player. The school is too wrapped up in the fact that the team is winning. Though Randy is not too thrilled when she learns that Jack has employed hypnotism once again to help Ned be successful on the court. It all ends up coming down to the last big game of the season…against the team they had the fist fight with earlier.
It’s hard to watch this film with the same light-hearted outlook that I’m sure the filmmakers intended in 78. In our world today, there has been story after story of young female teachers gettin’ a bit too close with some of their male students. I get the whole crush on the teach thing…but this goes more than a bit beyond that. He’s a high school student, she’s the coach! Randy never once hesitates, not even a brief “we really shouldn’t be doing this” moment. I half expected to see To Catch a Predator’s Chris Hanson come through the doorway as Randy and Jack ate their burgers.
Even if you can get past the patently unfunny premise of a high school coach sexing it up with one her students, the rest of the film doesn’t provide any laughs either. Subject matter aside, the movie is poorly executed. The acting is clunky, the editing is sloppy, and the sound is worst of all. With many scenes taking place in a gymnasium, the echo chamber effect is ridiculous.
It was a different time when this was made, I’ll give you that. Like many, I’m a sucker for underdog sports team movies. But it’s hard to cheer for the underdogs when you’re rooting for their coach to be arrested.