Coach Ernie Pantusso
|Ernie "Coach" Pantusso|
Coach errs in preparing a fictional Hawaiian drink, Kon Tiki Tiki, by putting the coconut cup into the blender
|First appearance||Give Me a Ring Sometime (episode 1.01)|
|Last appearance||Rescue Me (episode 3.25)
Cheerio, Cheers (last filmed with Colasanto)
|Portrayed by||Nicholas Colasanto|
|Occupation||Baseball coach (retired)
Assistant bartender (1982–1985) (until death)
Ernie Pantusso (or Pantuso), commonly known as "Coach", is a fictional character on the American television show Cheers, portrayed by Nicholas Colasanto between 1982 and 1985. Coach was Sam Malone's baseball coach before the series began. Then he became a bartender of Cheers while Sam became its owner and another bartender. He is not "worldly wise" but has some shred of wit. When Colasanto died in February 1985, Coach was written out as deceased without explanation, and then Woody Harrelson joined in as Woody Boyd since the fourth season of Cheers (1985–86).
Former umpire Ron Luciano auditioned for Coach Ernie Pantusso, but he failed to get the part because producers "wanted an experienced actor". Robert Prosky, who later appeared in the eleventh season episode "Daddy's Little Middle-Aged Girl" (1992) as Rebecca Howe's Navy father, was offered the role of Coach, but he turned down the role. Therefore, the role was given to Nicholas Colasanto. According to Colasanto, Coach was nearly "child-like" and more of a surrogate "son" than a surrogate "father" to Sam Malone (Ted Danson), while Sam was more of a "father" to Coach for dependency on Sam's "moral support". Moreover, Coach was beloved by everyone and a good "lovable man". According to director and producer James Burrows, the character of Coach was much different from the actor Nick: Coach was slow, while Nick was sharp.
Coach is a component of many people. [...] [He] is not a worldly man [and] not well-read. He comes from the dugouts. He may be intelligent, but he's not worldly wise. He's so positive; that's what makes him funny. He'll say the most absurd thing, but, if someone corrects him, he immediately capitulates because he doesn't want to offend anyone.—Nicholas Colasanto, The Associated Press, August 1984
Ernie "Coach" Pantusso is a slow, forgetful bartender with a gravel voice, caring personality, shred of intelligence, and warm heart. According to actor Colasanto, Coach loves to serve drinks for customers as a bartender, regardless of wage, and has no other ambitions in his life. Moreover, he listens to people and their problems very well. He is still nicknamed "Coach" by everyone, although he has been retired from coaching for years. He has a sister and two brothers. His older brother is an artist and was cruel to Coach, like dunking him in the water during their youth. His younger brother has a wife Phyllis with a daughter Joyce (Cady McClain).
Before the show premiered in 1982, Ernie has been nicknamed "Coach" because he was Sam Malone's baseball coach of the Boston Red Sox. As a young man, Ernie dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. He then played both minor league baseball and with the Browns. He later ended up with Boston's farm team, the Pawtucket Red Sox as a coach and also managed in the minors. As discovered in "The Tortelli Tort" (1982), with the St. Louis Browns, he led the American League in hits by pitches for two consecutive seasons. He moved back to the Majors as Boston's third base coach when Sam Malone was pitching. When Sam succumbed to alcoholism, leading to the end of his baseball career, Sam bought the bar Cheers and hired Coach as a co-bartender.
Coach is a widower of his wife Angela, who died before the show debuted. They have a daughter, Lisa (Allyce Beasley), whom he encourages to end an engagement to a fiancé he disliked in "Coach's Daughter" (1982).
In the first season episode "Pick a Con... Any Con", Coach loses a bar asset of $8,000 in gin rummy games to his competitor George Wheeler (Reid Shelton), making Sam anxious. Sam and Coach bail Harry the Hat (Harry Anderson) out of prison to help them retrieve the money back. They learn from Harry that George is a con artist, who uses different names in other locations. At overnight, Harry ends up losing to George in poker many times, but Sam and Coach realize that Harry's hand would have beaten George's. Harry and George finally admit their betrayal, so they decide to have George win again in the final game for real, but this time, if George wins, George would give back the money. Then Coach decides to play tricks in 'favor' of George, but that costs George the game. Harry leaves with the cash, and George chides Coach for making him lose. However, it turns out that the poker events were ideas and executions of Harry and Coach to cleverly retrieve the money.
In the two-part third season premiere "Rebound", after Sam and Diane broke their on-and-off relationship, Sam relapsed into alcoholism and committed excessive womanizing. Therefore, Coach goes to Diane Chambers's (Shelley Long) apartment to inform her about Sam's relapse, so she brings in her love interest, Frasier Crane, who is a psychiatrist, to help Sam cope with his alcoholism. Coach convinces Diane to be a waitress again, so Sam does not relapse again. Then he convinces Sam to re-hire her as a waitress again, so Diane does not lose her mind again. Then he convinces Frasier to be still Diane's fiancé by making her a waitress again, so Sam and Diane do not start another relationship.
Later, in two-part episode "Coach in Love", Coach is engaged to a widow Irene Blanchard, but she breaks off the engagement after she wins the lottery and is engaged to another man who is a millionaire. He later earns the highest grade in his geography class in "Teacher's Pet" (1985) after deciding to return to school with Sam to earn his degree.
Following Colasanto's death by heart attack on February 12, 1985, the show's creators decided not to recast Coach's role, so Coach is written out of the show as deceased without explanation of a cause and has been referenced frequently since his death in the fourth season premiere episode, "Birth, Death, Love and Rice" (1985), which also introduces his replacement, co-bartender Woody Boyd, portrayed by Woody Harrelson. In the premiere of the fourth season, Diane, who has been working in a nunnery, expresses grief since she heard about Coach's death from afar.
I don't think anything will happen this season. There's a great deal of talking to be done, and nothing is definite. But we're a realistic show, and we will deal with what happened to the coach in a realistic manner.—James Burrows, February 14, 1985
In "Fools and Their Money" (1985), Sam ends up costing Woody a lot of money. To resolve their differences over the matter, Sam and Woody sing "Home on the Range" together for a half-hour straight, which Coach sang for the same reasons while he was still alive. The rest of the bar hears them singing and, aware that it was Coach's method, join in. Sam also mentions to Woody that he was protecting him, as Coach used to do for Sam.
In the ending of the 1993 series finale, "One for the Road", Sam straightens a photograph of Geronimo, used by the late Colasanto as part of his dressing room while he was alive. The photo was hanging at the bar wall of the stage set "as a remembrance".
Since 1983, Nicholas Colasanto was Emmy-nominated three times as an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role of Coach, including his posthumous award nomination in 1985, but he did not win. On April 19, 1985, Colasanto was awarded posthumously the Best Supporting Actor by Viewers for Quality Television, a defunct non-profit organization that determined what was considered high-quality on television, for this role. Michael Hill from The Baltimore Evening Sun called Coach "the brilliant character". Robert Bianco praised Coach as the "heart" of the show, an ensemble's father figure, and Diane Chambers' "dependable ally". Bianco praised Coach for giving heart to the "Sam and Diane" story and for making the show a "classic". He was devastated that the actor and the character himself died, and he was disappointed that the show was not as great without him. Even with Coach's replacement Woody Boyd, Bianco considered Coach irreplaceable.
Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone on Cheers, felt that the show lost its "heart and soul" following Colasanto's death. Bill Simmons, previous writer of ESPN, praised Coach for making the show a "show", yet he felt that his death transformed the show into a "sitcom". A writer under a pseudonymous name, Joe Sixpack, from Philadelphia Daily News, named Coach his second most-favorite "complete professional" bartender with a warm heart to customers, despite his limited range of intelligence. Columnist Amber Lee from the Bleacher Report website called Coach one of "25 funniest coaches of film and television".
Jeffrey Robinson of the DVD Talk website praised Colasanto's performance for executing many dimensions to his character Coach, as opposed to his replacement Woody Boyd, whom he found one-dimensional and clueless. Adam Arseneau disdained the show for improperly honoring the memory of Colasanto by poorly handling his character Coach's disappearance in the third season and death in the fourth.
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