I think you have both betrayed the unspoken code that binds us loyal FNL viewers to the show, which is mutual agreement that Dillon exists in a universe sealed off from time and space and the general moral indifference that pervades American teenage life. In past seasons we were asked to believe that a bunch of Texas teenagers never texted or watched VH1 or talked about skinny jeans and often sat around watching cooking shows with their grandma. Similarly, in this season the writers asked us to believe that Dillon high-school football exists in innocence of the brutal world that is college recruitment. And so in FNL land, just the mere peek into this sleazy world is supposed to make us huff in outrage and run in search of the moral compass that is Coach (and Jess, who is the requisite FNL old fogey of the young generation).
I sympathize with your lack of patience with this forced innocence. But I also think this plotline is part of the writers' overall effort this season to bring Dillon into the 21st century—giving the kids cell phones, mentioning You Tube. (There was even a sly meta-commentary from Luke, who asked Becky to "e-mail, call, send me a postcard.") They haven't always succeeded in moving this time machine smoothly, and I think in this instance their writing mistake was, as you said, Emily, being too cryptic. When Coach said to Vince: "You're knocking on the wrong doors," what did he mean? That these schools were especially sleazy? That they would lure Vince in and then ignore him? Hard to say. But overall, I've appreciated the writers' effort to move forward. You can only believe in Santa Claus so long.
I do not think Coach is jealous of Ornette's relationship with Vince, or naive about college football. I think he is, like the show, trapped between the old world and the new and doesn't want these nasty new ways crashing in on the perfect world he's created. In this regard, I found his dealings with Julie especially poignant. "When is she leaving?" he asks Tami, after Julie offers to make them breakfast, at just the moment he should be appreciating her. But he asked not because he thinks she should get back to college but because some part of him hates her, and he can't get over it. When he hugged her goodbye, he had a look that called to mind the fathers in those Bollywood dramas who can't love their daughters quite the same way now that they've shacked up with some American guy. And those Richard Buckner lyrics they played in the background—"But, O, the face of it all has changed"—heartbreaking.
I do think the Taylors were too hard on Derek. They have led many a lost young man back on the right path, and he could not have been trying harder at repentance. On the other hand, that phone call from Julie proved them right. I have to admit, it took me a minute to piece it together. Julie was testing him, right, and he failed the test? He was not in fact the mensch he was pretending to be. Maybe this is proof that she has in fact inherited her mother's sixth sense after all.
Yes, Emily, Mindy wins the best supporting character award. That girl road trip subplot was way too compact for my tastes. And it contained the single best exchange of the episode: "Who loses their virginity in a truck?" Becky asks. "I did," chimes in one of Mindy's stripper friends. And, yes, the Epyck subplot was FNL at its worst—sappy, quick moral turnaround, not credible.
But, David, I suspect your nostalgia for the old FNL crew comes from a different source. We have lately been watching the first season of the British teen drama Skins, which we both adore, which is being turned into an American show, and which is ruled by exactly the opposite teenage moral code of FNL (all texting and raves, no nasty deed goes punished). And a brief Wikipedia foray recently delivered us the tragic news, already known to everyone in the U.K., that these Skins characters we so love will be hastily dispensed with after two seasons and replaced because, as the producers coldly explain, they will graduate from college. So I think David is somewhat in the same position as Coach—trying to hang onto all his old dogs as hard as possible. Nostalgia reigns in our house at the moment. Pretty soon we'll be watching reruns of Hawaii Five-O.