Before Jonathan Coachman ever got involved with the wrestling business, he worked for local news stations throughout the Midwest. Coach, who was born in Kansas, worked for KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Missouri and just happened to be on the scene for one of the darkest days in wrestling history.
At Over the Edge in 1999 at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Owen Hart fell to his death after an equipment malfunction. Coach wasn’t with WWE at the time but worked the event for his news station and he recalled that night during an interview with Chris Van Vliet.
“I was in the seventh row. I had just done a three-part series. My station sent me to Florida because wrestling was booming. At that time, the company went from being worth about $80-100 million to be worth $800 million,” said Coach. “This was when The Rock was starting to become huge, Stone Cold, Triple H, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, all of those guys.
“So, they gave me tickets to Over the Edge and I was in the seventh row. I was behind a doctor and his family. When the tragedy happened and they were doing CPR and JR and The King get up from their spots, running around, it felt like something was wrong. But you got to remember, in wrestling, it always feels like it’s part of the show. As they push Owen Hart out of the building, I’m talking to the doctor. I said, ‘Do you think that’s real?’ I’ll never forget his quote. He said, ‘If that’s real, that’s the worst CPR I’ve ever seen.’ They were literally straddling him and giving him CPR as they were pushing him back down the aisle, back through the curtain to the back.
“The show ended about 20 minutes early because that match never happened. The saving grace to this day is the fact that The Godfather was interviewing up on the screen. So, everything was black. It was dark. Then, you just heard this ‘Boom!’ And everything was shaking. Then, the lights came up, and unfortunately, Owen was laying there. I believe if the lights would’ve been up and we all would’ve seen it, how much PTSD I would still be dealing with today and the people would still be dealing with today? Tragic doesn’t even begin to describe it, but because it ended early, I went back to the station and I left my briefcase. I had a buddy with me.
“Can you imagine all of these nuggets I’m telling you right now? If one of these things didn’t happen, would I be sitting here today? I don’t know that. Because I forgot my briefcase, we went back to the station, the place was buzzing and you got to remember, sports guys back then didn’t even have cell phones. We had pagers. They didn’t even give us pagers then because they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re sports. Because everything is scheduled, you don’t need a pager.’
“Basically, I went on the 10 o’clock news and I almost got fired that night, because my news director said, ‘I paid you to be a reporter. You were the only one there and Vince was holding a press conference at 10 o’clock that night. I remember these details like it was yesterday. I ran from the arena and I could’ve stayed in the arena and done the press conference. It was just a crazy night and it was an unfortunate night, but it’s really the night that kind of shaped my career.”
About six months after that night, Coach would start working for WWE full-time but it was an arduous process to get to that point. He talked about what it took to get out of his news station contract in Kansas City and who the first Superstar he met at WWE’s headquarters was.
“In TV, for people who don’t know, you have what they call ‘outs’. If you’re in Kansas City, you get a Top 10 out. What this means is if you get a job offer in a top 10 market, you can go wherever you want,” revealed Coach. “Otherwise, you’re tied to your job. So, I had no outs because I’m 23. I couldn’t demand anything and I’m making $70,000 a year up from the $12.50 an hour. Up from the $24-grand.
“I feel like I’m making a million dollars, but in my head, ‘Oh, maybe I can do this on the side.’ So, I flew to Connecticut and Kevin Dunn offered me the job on the spot. I had maybe two or three hours to kill. So, they took me over to the gym and I walk over to the gym and only two people are working out in the gym.
“Stone Cold Steve Austin – and rumors were running rampant back then that he had a thing very down low with Debra – the other person in the gym was Debra. So, imagine you’ve just been offered this job and you’re 23. You’re so excited and all of a sudden, you walk in and you’re seeing the rumor that’s been circulating everywhere and you’re seeing it with your own two eyes.
“At the same time, Debra is one of the most incredibly beautiful women that you’ll ever see in your life. You’re trying not to look, because there’s only three of you in there and Stone Cold, who you know can kill you, is working out right over there.
“I’m on the treadmill and I’m going. He comes over and he’s like, ‘Hey pal, can I get a spot?’ So, then I thought, ‘I’m spotting Stone Cold Steve Austin. If I drop this bar, I’m going to be responsible for killing Stone Cold Steve Austin.’ It was the most nervous spot I ever had.”
Coach started off working part-time for WWE and had it all planned out where he could work for both WWE and his Kansas City news station at the same time. However, his station had other ideas and it nearly led to Coach being fired as soon as he brought up his WWE offer.
“I got back to Kansas City and I’m excited because my off days were Mondays and Tuesdays. So, WWE said, ‘Listen, for the next two-and-a-half years, you work with us on Mondays and Tuesdays, fly back to Kansas City and you work Wednesday-Sunday and when two-and-a-half years is up, we’ll talk and see if you want to come full-time,’” recalled Coach.
“So, I go in my News Director’s office, he is livid. He hears me out, looks at me, and says, ‘I should fire you right now’ – first things out of his mouth. I said, ‘Why?’ And he says, ‘Because this is one of the stupidest things I ever heard.’ He goes, ‘I would fire you, but if I did, I knew you would have a job waiting if I did fire you. So, I’m not going to do that and I’m going to save your career, because nobody with your future should be doing professional wrestling. it’s stupid.’ Direct quote and I was like, ‘Okay.’ He kind of slapped me around a little bit.
“I went back and he says, ‘I never want to hear about it again.’ I called Kevin Dunn. His exact quote was, ‘Who do you think you’re talking to?’ He goes, ‘Stand by.’ So, a week goes by and he calls me back. He says, ‘Grab a pen and paper. Here’s what we’re willing to do.’ He said, ‘We’re going to buy you out of your contract. We’ll let you stay until they replace you and we’ll hire a headhunter to replace you, to speed up the process’.”
“So, I walk in my News Director’s office and I said, ‘I know you didn’t want to hear about this, but here’s what we’re willing to do.’ He looks at the piece of paper, looks right at me and he goes, ‘This is bulls**t.’ I said, ‘They literally just told me that!’ He goes, ‘This isn’t true. You’re too young. You’re not good enough. No big company like this would ever do this.’ I said, ‘This is what they said. Can you at least take it to somebody?’ He said, ‘Okay, we’ll take it to somebody.’
“I walked out of there knowing nothing. I get a call three or four days later and he goes, ‘I need you to come in and talk to me.’ I go into the station. He looks at me and goes, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but you’re going to the WWE.’ I said, ‘How did this happen?’ He said, ‘Well, something you didn’t know was that we’re trying to figure out how to come up with the funds to buy a helicopter for the station. The money they’re going to pay us will be a down payment on our helicopter that we desperately need for traffic.’
“He said, ‘The caveat is you have to stay here until the end of the football season’ because I was the Chiefs guy. Len Dawson, who was also a quarterback for the Chiefs, was the voice of the Chiefs. I had to babysit him. So, we became very close, almost like grandfather and grandson.”
So, for the second half of 1999, Coach pulled double duty while working for both the Kansas City news station and WWE. Working seven days a week had him drained and so much so that he rooted against his hometown Kansas City Chiefs in order he didn’t have to cover their NFL playoff games.
“For five months, and I don’t why I thought I could do this for two-and-a-half years, for five months I worked on Mondays and Tuesdays [for WWE] and I would work in Kansas City, Wednesday-Sunday, which included eight away games for The Chiefs as well. I was going absolutely bananas,” admitted Coach. By the time we were getting to the end of December, I’m exhausted. I’m tired.
“The last game of the year, tied at 38, Raiders lining up for a field goal. If they make it, the season’s over. If they miss it and the Chiefs win, we go to the playoffs. It’s another week I have to stay in Kansas City. So, everybody knew by then I was going. So, everybody’s looking at me in the press box. ‘Coach, what do you want to happen?’ ‘I don’t know!’ Because I’m a Chiefs fan in my heart, but I also didn’t want to work seven days a week anymore, traveling all over.
“They made the kick and the next morning, I got on a plane and flew to Miami and then I flew to Connecticut. That was the last time I lived in Kansas City and I started my full-time career in January of 2000.”
After nine years with WWE, Coach departed in 2008 and began a career at ESPN. He then returned to WWE in 2016 where he made some part-time appearances before joining the Raw commentary team two years later. He talked about what led him coming back to WWE.
“I knew that if I wanted to be in the level of golf… golf is probably a harder world to get into at the highest level than pro wrestling. It’s very cliquey. I knew it needed to change and diversify. I also knew that when your number one player is a black golfer since 1996, but yet, there are no black announcers other than one or two across all the major networks, that’s a problem. But it’s also an opportunity,” stated Coach.
“I looked at it as an opportunity, but for me, it was going to take three-five years to get to the point where I can make enough money just doing golf if that’s what it took to be at the financial level I want to be at. To bridge that gap, I knew I needed something else. [WWE] called me. They knew I was leaving [ESPN}. They wanted to bring me in.
“The mistake that I made, to be brutally honest with you, I never wanted to do commentary. I already had my deal with golf to be the voice of the PGA World Tour. I knew I was going to miss five RAWs of that first year. I knew Vince wasn’t going to be happy with it and to be honest, I like Corey Graves as a person, but I still don’t think he wanted a partner.
“Now, he’s better than he’s ever been because he doesn’t have to do a three-man booth. Nobody likes a three-man booth. I just don’t think he wanted me there and that’s okay because now he’s able to shine with just him and Michael Cole.
“That was the mistake I made was accepting the role they wanted me to play. Because of my days at ESPN, [Vince] didn’t want me to go back as heel Coach. That’s the Coach that I love. I love heel Coach. Heel Coach is fun, but he didn’t want me to lose the credibility that I gained in 10 years as a sports anchor. If I ever went back again now, I would give it a 2 percent chance of me ever doing wrestling again. If I did, it would have to be on my terms and my way, because I was most popular when I was a heel.
“Now, I feel so good about the other things that I’m doing and they know who I am, that I can do heel Coach and I’ll be okay.”
During Coach’s initial run with WWE, he was everything from a commentator to on-screen authority figure to interviewer, but most of all he was a personality. That’s something that current WWE announcers are not as they pretty much stick to only being broadcasters.
Coach was asked why broadcasters are no longer used as characters in WWE.
“I think it’s a combination of things. I think that people are scared to death to speak up to say, ‘I want to try that.’ I think they’re a little more careful about who they do physicality too,” admitted Coach.
“I was in two Royal Rumbles. I wrestled Ric Flair in Afghanistan. I could do all of those things. Was I a great wrestler? No, but I can look the part. I can get in there and bump. I went through more tables than anybody from John Cena and The Dudley Boyz.
“I’m proud of the fact I say, yes. I’m proud of the fact I had arguably the greatest heel turn in the business as far as a surprise is concerned. Because nobody saw it coming when I attacked Shane McMahon with a steel chair at SummerSlam 2003. I go back to the hotel and people, go, ‘Coach, I didn’t see that coming.’ Nobody saw it coming because it was good storytelling leading up to that and you set people up. That’s the beauty of pro wrestling – setting them up to knock them down.”
Coachman has spent nearly 25 years in front of the camera and worked for everyone from WWE to ESPN to NBC. He talked about what his current and future goals are and why Triple H is someone he’d like to emulate.
“I have a lot. I’m in my 40s now. I still want to do a lot of work in front of the camera, but I now know what my strengths are and I’m a really good producer. I’m a really good leader. I understand probably better than anybody what it takes to be in the real broadcasting world and also in the sports entertainment broadcasting world at the highest levels,” stated Coach.
“Sometimes, I feel like I hurt myself because I was on national TV at such a young age. When I watch people, I automatically think they should be at this level and there are levels to this. You have to work at it just like anything else. So, I want to be a leader to allow young minds and young people who are talented to have the avenues to show their work and talent, and not a bunch of executives telling them they’re too young. That’s what I want my future to be.
“I want to be a top-level executive one day and wherever it is I’m at. Whether it’s CBS, PGA Tour. I want to do both in front of the camera now. Kind of like what Triple H has done in the WWE. He’s a great wrestler, great talent, and now, he helps run the company. That’s what I want to do. It drives me and also, I love to lift people up. I get more enjoyment out of helping somebody else do something and see them do it than I do myself because I’ve already done it. I already know that satisfaction. So, that is satisfying to me. My future is very clear for me and hopefully, a lot of people want to come along for the ride.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Insight with Chris Van Vliet with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.