Friday Night Lights, Season 5

The Problem with Coach
Talking television.
Jan. 5 2011 10:33 PM

Friday Night Lights, Season 5

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Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor.

Let me get this straight. A major booster from Oklahoma Tech (evil imaginary school alert!) spends an entire day sucking up to Vince, arranges a special, beauteously escorted campus tour, and even stage-manages a conversation with the head coach so that Vince can overhear, and Coach Taylor's only conclusions are: "That offer is worth nothing" and "You're knocking on the wrong doors."

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is the CEO of Atlas Obscura and host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

Forgive me, Coach, but I suspect that Ornette Howard has a more sophisticated and productive understanding of college football recruiting than you do. Consider Eric's record at getting his players college football scholarships. It's abysmal. Tim Riggins—tiny school, immediate washout. Smash Williams—no scholarship, reduced to walking on at Texas A&M. Matt Saracen—no scholarship. Luke Cafferty—hardly a sniff from a scout.

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Eric quit TMU in Season 2 because he thought it was too sleazy, and it's clear that his choirboy attitude about college football is doing his players no favors. Eric wants to live in a world where his players are rewarded on their merits, where their success as a team wins them accolades, and where the gentlemen-coaches who award college football scholarships thoughtfully bestow their bounty on the hard-working lads of Dillon. It doesn't work that way, Coach! College football is a cutthroat, multibillion-dollar industry, with fierce competition for great players. Eric's approach is that a low-key, sleaze-free approach will secure Vince the best deal. So far, that seems to be a dud: All Eric does is wax indignant about TMU and Oklahoma Tech and complain about Vince showboating. He hasn't done a single thing to get major universities interested in his star QB. (In fact, given the crummy scholarship results of his earlier players, there is no reason to believe Eric has real connections at major universities.) Ornette and Vince, by contrast, understand that Vince's future—his pro prospects—depends on them securing the best possible deal for Vince. Since Coach isn't helping them, they are doing it themselves, whether that means skipping practice for a campus visit to Oklahoma Tech, or freelancing a 65-yard pass play to show off Vince's arm.

Even though football is a profession for him, and the defining passion for the town of Dillon, Eric seems to believe that his players should think of football as just a game. But it's not a game for Vince, or Luke, or even Tinker. It is their future, their way to college (in Luke's case) and their future profession (in Vince's). So they have every right to be furious at Coach for holding them back and not truly helping them showcase their skills and dazzle scouts. If there is a "Fracture" in this episode, Coach is the cause.

As for Oklahoma Tech, I don't see villainy. I see a major university bending the rules—as every football power does—to entice a great prospect. The energy that Oklahoma Tech is investing in Vince indicates genuine enthusiasm, not a scheme to screw Vince over. (FNL being FNL, Oklahoma Tech will undoubtedly turn out to be Satan's University, and Coach will be vindicated. But in a real-life situation, Vince would be crazy not to consider the school seriously.)

One final point. My dear FNL producers: It's clear that, Ornette aside, your new Season 5 characters aren't working out. (This week's Epyck minidrama left me longing for Tyra to return and give Epyck a major beat-down.) So I propose a deal. How about you cut every scene in the last five episodes with Epyck, Hastings, or Buddy Jr. and instead give us longer farewell visits with Matt, Smash, Tim, and Tyra? Because I'm being generous, I won't even insist on Lyla. Or Landry.

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