I think my favorite thing about Coach Beard is that we don’t know his name. We don’t know his first name, of course, because no character on Ted Lasso has addressed him by anything other than “Beard” or “Coach Beard,” but we also do not truly know if Beard is his real last name. It could be a nickname based on the fact that he has a beard. If he shaves off all the hair below his upper lip, people might start calling him Coach Mustache. That’s something none of us can rule out at this point. I like to think Ted doesn’t even know his real first name. I like to think he insists on being paid in cash so even the payroll department doesn’t know his name. I bet his girlfriend calls him Coach Beard. The man is a mystery wrapped in an enigma and covered in finely groomed facial hair.
Which is cool. There’s something to be said for mystery, and it’s kind of perfect that Ted Lasso — an earnest and sweet show that frequently dives into its characters backstories to reveal their current motivations — has one character who is an unsolvable puzzle. I mean, what do we know about Coach Beard, for certain? Let’s tick off a few things:
- Loves chess and can play it in his head without a board
- Sings Lady Gaga at karaoke
- Is an extremely solid dude
This last thing is as important as it is true. Consider for a second how Coach Beard ended up where he is. He was an assistant football coach in America. His buddy and boss went through a bad breakup and kind of fled across the Atlantic Ocean to coach a sport neither of them understand in what could certainly be considered a manic episode, and he was just like, “Yup, I’m in.” Think about that for a while at some point. Think about if you have anyone in your life who would do that for you, or if you have anyone in your life you would do that for. It’s a big deal.
The show told us what a solid dude he was right away, too, before we even knew it was happening. The first time we see Coach Beard, in the series premiere, before he utters a single line of dialogue, he is sitting behind Ted on the plane to England with a book about soccer in his hands.
To recap: The man is on a transatlantic flight vacuuming up information about a sport he does not understand because his number one dude is going through it and kind of got in over his head. Brendan Hunt, the actor who plays Coach Beard, elaborated on all of this in a way that both explains the reasoning and makes me love Coach Beard even more.
His role is to fill in Ted’s gaps without anyone knowing that that’s what he’s doing, which is why it starts with getting on a plane with a book about the rules of soccer and learning soccer as quickly as possible because he knows Ted’s never going to fill that gap.
Perfect. Lovely. A sweet and solid dude. And I would like the character even if that’s all he was. But again, there’s more there. He’s an iceberg. We’re only seeing the tip of Coach Beard. I get a little excited every time we learn another tiny fact about him. He’s a man who sometimes sleeps at work because his lover threw his keys into a river and also a man who is comfortable crying during animated movies. Both of those are true. They both happened on the show. The crying thing was great, for reasons Ashley Nicole Black — a writer on the show — explained in a recent interview.
There’s a scene where the team is at an away game and they’re watching, I think, Iron Giant, and Ted has to leave. He tells Beard to stay here because in about 32 minutes, you’re going to have a room full of sobbing men. And Beard goes, “I’m going to be one of them.” When you cut back to them, you see all the players crying over Iron Giant. That’s what I love about the show and also this character — it’s showing different ways of being masculine and that watching a movie and crying with your buddies over a cartoon is one of the ways you could be a strong man. I love it. And that Beard has no shame in telling Ted, “Oh, I’m absolutely going to cry to this movie too.”
It’s the best. We’re at the point now, barely into the second season of the show, where you could tell me anything about his past and I would probably believe you. He’s in witness protection after testifying against a violent crew of Florida drug runners? Yup. He managed a sandwich shop before stumbling into a career as a football coach? Sure. He was a child math prodigy who had a breakdown and resurfaced a dozen years later with a whistle and sunglasses and a passion for exotic blitz packages? Of course, especially knowing what we know about the chess thing.
But, that said, and I want to be as clear as I can about this next part, I absolutely do not want to know any of these things for certain. Ted Lasso is littered with characters who I want to know more about. I would love an episode about Keeley’s rise to fame. I would happily learn more about how and why my sweet prince Dani Rojas became a ray of sunshine personified. I would watch an entire spinoff series about Roy Kent in high school. (I am very serious about this.) But not Coach Beard. I want to know nothing of substance about him ever. I want him to continue being an empty vessel I can fill with whatever lunatic theories feel correct in the moment. A fun one I’m tinkering with lately is that he coached a rural high school to three state championships but was fired and run out of town when the school board discovered he was also serving as the mascot for a hated crosstown rival. Close your eyes and tell me you can’t see it.
Ted Lasso is a good show for a bunch of reasons. It’s funny and heartfelt and nice. It’s got characters who legitimately care about each other. It’s a breath of fresh air after two decades of shows about doomed antiheroes sabotaging their lives and the lives of everyone who loves them. But it’s also a good show because, while doing all of that, it will sometimes just have its most mysterious character belt out Lady Gaga at karaoke for a few seconds and let the viewers try to wrap their heads around what exactly that means. I know I mentioned this already but I didn’t post the video that time. The video is good. Let’s watch the video.
Characters like Coach Beard are a blast in moderation because they create limitless possibilities. It’s a “Kramer on Seinfeld” or “Gunther on Friends” situation, but with the added element of supreme competence. The same way I’d believe anything you can hypothesize about his past, I’d also believe anything about his future. There’s a non-zero chance he ends up becoming the Prime Minister of England. That reads like a joke, I know, but close your eyes for a second and tell me you can’t see it happening, too. Prime Minister Coach Beard. Rolls right off the tongue. Let’s go ahead and pencil it in.