10 Best TV Gym Teachers

Armed with their trusty whistle and little shorts, gym teachers on television are on the front lines of physical education. Although they don’t usually get the same kind of critical acclaim that head coaches like Ted Lasso (Ted Lasso) and Eric Taylor (Friday night lights), gym teachers and the actors who play them are a proven source of comedy.

Many of these fictional gym teachers rely on disciplinary stereotypes and gleefully torture their students with rope climbing and laps around the field. The most exceptional examples, however, reveal a more complex and emotional depth while retaining an exaggerated tyrannical exterior.

Kenny Powers – East and Down

Former professional athletes often hold public school jobs in the television world, dating back at least as far as Ken Howard’s role as Coach Reeves in the white shadow. However, perhaps the strangest example is when professional baseball pitcher Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) is hired as an elementary school gym teacher in the first season of East and down.

Kenny is one of the most irreverent and obnoxiously funny characters ever created. While a man with such childish and narcissistic characteristics should never be left in charge of the kids, he uses his semi-celebrity status to keep his job before giving it up for another shot at baseball. It’s for the best because when he’s on the mound, Kenny Powers is one of the best baseball players in television history.

Graham Lubbock – Growing Pains / Just Us Ten

In seasons 2 and 3 of the popular 80s sitcom Growing pains, comedian Bill Kirchenbauer portrayed cantankerous gym teacher Graham Lubbock, before earning his own spin-off series. In Just us tenCoach Lubbock moves to California with his family to take a job at an all-boys Catholic academy.

The spin-off gave Coach Lubbock the opportunity to grow beyond his role as a gym teacher, as the show focused heavily on his family life as a loving husband and exasperated father of 8 children. Most of Lubbock’s endearing comedic energy is spent feuding with his four teenage daughters, including eldest daughter Marie, played by legendary scream queen Heather Langenkamp.

Mr. Heyman – Seinfeld

George Constanza reunites with his high school gym teacher, Mr. Heyman (Biff Yeager), living on the streets in Season 3 of The Seinfeld episode “The Library”. Viewers learn through a series of flashbacks that Heyman bullied George in high school by calling him « I can’t stand you » and encouraging his classmates to give him wedgies.

Heyman rightly loses his job when George reports him for abusive behavior and although Heyman only makes a few brief appearances, George’s reference to the teacher’s « baked bean teeth » is hard to forget. “The Library” also features Lt. Joe Bookman (Philip Baker Hall), one of the best characters to appear in a single episode of Seinfeld.

Cherri Wolf – Strangers with Candy

In the twisted world of Strangers with sweets, adults are hardly more mature than the children they watch over. While gym trainer Cherri Wolf (Sarah Thyre) does her best to be a role model for struggling Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), she has questionable ethics in the name of competition.

Like so many educators, Coach Wolf was underpaid for her work and took a side job at a pizza place (which eventually led to a memorable affair with her class’ pizza maker). When the school was torn down in the series finale, Wolf took a job at the Sticky Bunnery which replaced his classroom as they offered better pay.

Coach Steve – Big Mouth

Arguably the most endearing gym teacher in TV history is Coach Steve from the animated coming-of-age comedy. Big mouth.

Coach Steve is voiced by series creator Nick Kroll and is arguably the funniest character on the Netflix series. His one-liners are unexpected and usually give insight into his bizarre life. During the series, viewers learn that Coach Steve’s father was buried in a pet cemetery, he claims to work at the Patrick Ewing Brewing Company, and he was born with four eyeballs.

Chelsea/Coach Fuller–Frasier

When Frasier Crane starts dating gym teacher Chelsea (Jeanne Tripplehorn) in season ten fraser episode « Trophy Girlfriend », she seems like the perfect match for the romantically ineffective psychiatrist. However, when he sees her scolding a student during class, it brings back painful memories of his childhood PE teacher, Coach Fuller, and Frasier begins to see his newfound love in a different way.

For the rest of the episode, Frasier can only see Chelsea as Coach Fuller, hilariously portrayed by cigar-biting Bob Hoskins. The visual gag is played to brilliant effect as the gruff gym teacher tickles Frasier in bed and reads poetry to him in a bubble bath, while wearing his gym clothes. It’s one of the funniest examples of another Frasier romance gone wrong.

Mark Cooper – Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper

Hanging out with Mr. Cooper is another prime example of a professional athlete taking a job as a gym teacher at a public school. Mark Curry stars as Mark Cooper, a former professional basketball player who works as a substitute teacher and later a physical education coach at Oakbridge High School in his hometown of Oakland, California.

Curry brought his carefree comedic persona to the character, which was a fun break from the traditional no-nonsense TV gym teachers. The series was a staple of ABC’s popular TGIF family programming block in the mid-1990s, and in the show’s second episode, Mr. Cooper is a substitute teacher for Full house Michelle Tanner (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) in a classic TV crossover.

Buzzcut Trainer – Beavis and Butthead

Beavis and Butthead are every teacher’s worst nightmare. Their educators were beaten, hospitalized, arrested and fired as they attempted to teach Highland High School’s two worst students. The teacher they anger the most is angry coach Buzzcut, voiced by Mike Judge.

As his name suggests, Buzzcut is a veteran of the US Marines and fought in Vietnam as part of the 1st Infantry Division (making him one of many interesting characters who served in the Vietnam War) . He has the teaching style of a drill sergeant with uncontrollable rage. This rage is usually targeted at Beavis and Butthead, whom he abuses both verbally and physically to great comic effect.

Ben Fredricks – Freaks and Geeks

Better known as Biff Tannen in the Back to the future trilogy, actor Thomas F. Wilson takes on a friendlier role as gym teacher Ben Fredricks in the short-lived cult classic series freaks and geeks. At first glance, Coach Fredricks appears to be a stereotypical dimwitted jock with a penchant for dodgeball, but as the series progresses he is revealed to be a much more complex character.

Although slow to recognize the needs of his less athletic students, Ben Fredricks continually demonstrates a willingness to modify his teaching style to provide a more equitable learning environment for the children of William McKinley High School. Viewers also get a glimpse of him as a caring father figure later in the series when he begins dating Bill’s mother (Martin Starr).

Coach Cutlip – The Wonderful Years

Coach Cutlip is the classic example of a fictional gym teacher with his brusque demeanor and masochistic approach to education. Since its first appearance on the Wonder Years in 1988, Cutlip served as a prototype for the physical educators who tormented children on television in the decades that followed. His cold exterior, however, hides a man in desperate need of acceptance.

When Kevin finds out that Coach Cutlip works as Santa at a department store in « A Very Cutlip Christmas, » viewers realize just how lonely the man really is when he reveals he’s wearing the suit because « kids m love when I’m Santa Claus”. It was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the 6-season series. Robert Picardo was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of the misunderstood gym teacher before rising to intergalactic fame as the doctor on Star Trek: Voyager.

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