Craig T. Nelson Returns to His 'Coach' Roots on 'Young Sheldon'

Jim Halterman
Q&A Robert Voets/2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

No, it's not a Coach reboot. Craig T. Nelson, who won an Emmy for playing cranky college football coach Hayden Fox on ABC's long-running sitcom (1989–97), trades pigskin for cowhide on The Big Bang Theory's prequel.

His Little League coach Dale Ballard is quite surly, but as Young Sheldon exec producer Steven Molaro notes, "Craig has the innate ability to play gruff in a way that is still charming."

Will his charm work on Meemaw (Annie Potts), who's itching for a fight when Dale blocks her granddaughter Missy (Raegan Revord, above, with Nelson and Potts) from suiting up?

Nelson gives us a preview. 

Director Mark Cendrowski on Straddling the 'Big Bang Theory' & 'Young Sheldon' Worlds

Director Mark Cendrowski on Straddling the 'Big Bang Theory' & 'Young Sheldon' Worlds

The Emmy-nominated director also compares the upcoming ABC comedy 'United We Fall' to 'Big Bang.'

You describe Coach Ballard as having "a lot of eccentricities." How so?

Craig T. Nelson: He's set in his ways, but at the same time, he's just kind of freewheeling. He seems to have his own particular perspective about things. He's got an ex-wife who owns half of [his] sporting goods store, which I think he resents. 

Why doesn't he want Missy to try out for the boys' Little League team? Is it because the show is set in the late '80s?

Yeah. There's just such a reticence to even take a look and see what she can do. It's all about her gender. "No, she's a girl!"

(Robert Voets/2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Is this really your first time acting with Annie Potts?

I was pretty amazed we hadn't worked together [before]. Meemaw and the coach don't hit it off right away at all!

Over your five-decade career, you've bounced between drama (NBC's Parenthood, CBS's The District) and comedy. How is it getting back to a sitcom?

It's one of the reasons I wanted to do it, and also, [Young Sheldon executive producer] Chuck Lorre is a friend. It's fun to try and resharpen the [comedy] tools. Zeek on Parenthood was more droll. This guy is a jerk, but he's a fun jerk.

ATX TV Festival 2020: 'Parenthood' & 'Justified' Reunions & More

ATX TV Festival 2020: 'Parenthood' & 'Justified' Reunions & More

There will also be a retrospective panel for 'Oz' and a screening of the unaired pilot for 'L.A. Confidential.'

Young Sheldon, Thursdays, 8/7c, CBS