It's only natural to wonder who would play the current dean of the Big Ten.
On Tuesday, Variety announced that Al Pacino would be playing Joe Paterno in a long-planned movie about the embattled late Penn State coach. There are obviously several reasons why this entire thing is a bad idea, and PSU fans want to hear precisely zero of them from us, so we'll skip that part.
We do have to wonder, however, about other Big Ten coaches being etched into cinematic lore, and who's got a better story for telling than Kirk Ferentz himself? The answer is nobody. But every great subject needs a great actor, so here are the calls any producer worth his or her salt should make.
THE OLD GUARD
One problem is some candidates who immediately come to mind are, well, too old. Or sometimes dead. Let's take a quick swing through them and imagine them in a different time, portraying Kirk Ferentz as they were really probably meant to do with their lives.
The man kicked a terrorist out of Air Force One; you think he wouldn't kick DJK off the Hawkeyes? Unfortunately, ol' Harry is about two decades too old to take on something like this, and he looks every bit of it. But one quick fun thing: if we think of Kirk Ferentz as the Han Solo of the 1983 staff (look back: who else is it going to be?), we can say Dan McCarney is Chewbacca, and I'm totally for that.
Somehow still alive, is also named Kirk, and an icon of an era that younger Kirk grew up in. Kirk Douglas brought Spartacus, Doc Holliday and Vincent Van Gogh to life, and he was a perfectly charming fixture of mid-century cinema. Just a bummer that back then, the only coaches that would have been on Hollywood's radar were Knute Rockne and, I dunno... Amos Alonzo Stagg?
Plain-spoken yet brilliant, with Midwestern good looks and values and an earned ruggedness that's awfully hard to come by these days. Newman was legendary for aging visibly but gracefully, and he looked like he would have been right at home matching wits with the Big Ten's best minds on the sidelines. He died at 73 years old almost a decade ago, but he was George Clooney before Actual George Clooney — with a strong line of salad dressings to boot. Who says no to that?
THE BELL COWS
The obvious choice. The age, looks and demeanor all link up, and Cranston's range would translate perfectly into the sheer breadth of requirements that go into being a modern high-major college football coach. He knows a thing or two about the vagaries of executive leadership in a brutally competitive environment (Breaking Bad), managing a cadre of overfunctional sons (Malcolm in the Middle), balancing talent and controversy (Trumbo) and issuing edicts to spectacularly athletic yet bewildered teenagers (Mighty Morphing Power Rangers). Imagine Bryan Cranston giving that pregame speech before PSU 2008 or Minnesota 2008. IMAGINE.
Already knows his way around small-town Iowa and a wide variety of sports. As seen above, has been on film getting killed by a Cyclone. He wears his experience on his face at an elite level, and that's what a Ferentz role would require at this point. It's hard to think of an actor who would be better-equipped to portray the perpetual conflict of the public, political struggles of the fans' desires and the internal needs for structure and compassion. We've seen Costner do it, and if he has a strong female foil (we are not writing a separate HOW TO CAST MARY FERENTZ post, for the record) he can do it here.
Discount Kevin Costner.
The preeminent football coach actor of our generation still hasn't brought a real-life coach to the big (or small) screen, and at the risk of typecasting the man, he can totally do Kirk Ferentz. At its core, Friday Night Lights was about humanizing the central figure of the struggle between civic pride, boosters, developmental needs and those god-dang Ws and Ls. And when the resources aren't in your favor every single week, that struggle runs out of easy answers very, very quickly. Kirk Ferentz knows that struggle. Eric Taylor knows that struggle. So Kyle Chandler knows that struggle. The resemblance obviously isn't there, but come on, Hollywood's all about upgrades.
Speaking of Breaking Bad alumni, here's a finesse pick. The movie would obviously be called "Better Call Inside Zone."
Now we're talking. Think of the possibilities he brings, the doors he opens in the Hawkeye universe. Who else would even think of stealing the Old Capitol dome, or bringing a recruit to Iowa City by hacking into air traffic control and rerouting his plane from Tuscaloosa to the Eastern Iowa Airport? Also, we really want to see how he handles his first experience with The Swarm since, well, y'know...
Does Christopher Walken bear any resemblance, physically or personality-wise, to Kirk Ferentz? No. Does Christopher Walken have any qualification to take a role like this? No. That's an objective no on both counts. Are you extremely interested in how he would portray the role anyway? Yes. God, yes. Don't even give him a script. Bring him to Iowa City and start the cameras -- and the carnage.
Al Pacino again
Paterno won't be the first football coach Pacino plays on the big screen; who could forget his bombastic, scenery-chewing turn as Tony D'Amato in Any Given Sunday? So where does it say that he has to stop at *two* head coach roles? Ridiculous. Let him take on Kirk, the way only Pacino can: "That's football, baby!" Then let's send him through the rest of the Big Ten. Bo Schembechler? "The team, the team, the team! Hoooaaahh!" These things just write themselves.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
The man is instant box office gold, and for good reason: his characters steal every scene they're in, with a blend of high-octane action, charisma and unmistakeable good looks. The man has played an FBI-agent-turned-vehicular-renegade-justice-guy, a lifeguard, a helicopter pilot, Hercules, a CIA agent and a Scorpion King; you're telling me he can't pace the sidelines at Kinnick Stadium? That's his bridge too far? C'mon.
Okay, his command of the English language may not be spectacular, to say nothing of the advanced American football jargon necessary for a role like this. But the camera just loves the iconic Hong Kong film star, and so have audiences for decades. Plus, the amount of money saved on stunt work means producers basically can't afford *not* to cast Mr. Chan here. Let's just see where the movie goes before judging it, okay?
REFEREE: Ain't no rule says a dog can't play Kirk Ferentz in a biopic.
CROWD: [goes absolutely bonkers]