Beginning with its pilot episode, fans of “Cheers” became familiar with the character of Coach Ernie Pantusso, the friendly, but somewhat dim former baseball coach of Sam Malone (Ted Danson). Played by the late actor Nicholas Colasanto, Coach had a penchant for telling rambling stories and was called Coach by everyone in the bar despite having left the sporting career behind to serve as a bartender with Sam. Colasanto played Coach on “Cheers” until his tragic death in 1985. It’s impossible to think of anyone else besides Colasanto playing Coach since the actor did such a memorable job in the role. But, surprisingly, the part could have gone to John Madden.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Madden once said in an old interview for “Entertainment Tonight” that “When Cheers first started, they wrote me in as the bartender, Coach. So, I talked about it. If the thing fails, you’re a failure, and I didn’t want to lose. And if the thing won, which obviously ‘Cheers’ did, then I would have had to quit what I was doing, what I loved. So, I couldn’t figure out why I should do it.”
Madden choosing not to take the role of Coach makes sense, especially given that his passion for football oozed during his tenure as a sports broadcaster. Despite no longer coaching, he could still participate in the game he loved as an on-air sportscaster. Besides, the broadcasting role earned him multiple Emmy Awards (via ESPN). So clearly, Madden made a personal winning decision.