“You know you got a problem there right?” - Jason Street

If Friday Night Lights is an equation then the multiple variables have always been the players, the kids, and the community at large while the constant has been Coach Taylor. His uncompromising hold on his core belief system (when it comes to family and football) have rarely wavered and even been the cause of him losing his job. But this season has explored his once tight grip slip sliding away from him in the name of winning.

I’ve always had the sense that winning was important for Coach, but not necessarily his complete motivation in the art of coaching football. He’s seemed to be more a molder of men (a Kingmaker even?) than a “win at all costs” type of leader. But starting with his head nod to Vince last episode to lead the Lions in a dirtily-played win, to his team’s dismantling of crosstown West Dillon, that Coach we once knew is slowly disappearing. And there’s a sense that he’s almost on the outside looking in at his own decisions. Not necessarily comfortable with them, but doing little to change the path the team is headed down.

During the rivalry week, the now-public records of his players backed up the assertion that he’s become a man leading a team of criminals. Hell, he’s having them act almost criminally on the field. And while Coach can’t be blamed for his player’s sins of the past, and he did try to have the site taken down, part of me wonders if this kind of thing doesn’t bother him the way it used to.

I think this is why Jason Street was used in this episode. Of course his surprise reappearance (I cheered a little) was under the guise of recruiting Eric to the next level of college coaching, but it really was more a device to show just how far Coach has fallen in terms of his core beliefs. Watching Street shake his head on the sidelines as the Lions destroyed the Panthers with a litany of cheap hits, trash-talking and running up the score told the whole story. Here was a guy, Coach, who even when losing the best quarterback in the country to a spinal injury, managed to take his team to the state finals by sticking what he knew was right. By coaching players, not a system. By making men.

As Street’s presence reminded us of all that Coach had been, the Vince story line was a perfect example of what he’d become. When Vince asks Coach if a criminal past will stop the recruitment calls from coming, Coach assures him that what happens on the field is the only barometer for college interest when it comes to football. But can the same be said for a football coach? Part of me wonders if he let his players play so far outside the realm of classy football to draw his own suitors’ interests towards him or push them away.

And Vince’s situation, along with what is happening with Julie at home, are clear examples of how Coach has completely lost control. In the past, if he suspected a player of committing recruitment infractions, the kid would have surely been scolded and benched. If his daughter acted irresponsibly he’d make sure she was taught a lesson. But Julie is wallowing away in a state of self-pity and angst going nowhere fast. And Vince, partly thanks to Ornette, but probably more thanks to the kid’s skills, plays by a different set of rules. Rules Coach never compromised on in the past, but that past is slowly slipping away in the name of winning, and recognition and some mystery chip on his shoulder that just won’t go away.

Some other thoughts

The show has always sidestepped the issue of college recruiting rather easily because they’ve never had anyone (outside of a pre-injury Jason Street) good enough to be really heavily courted to play Division I football. The players have been the one seeking some recognition from the next level. So it’s interesting to finally have a player, like Vince, heavily sought after. It gives a little insight into how dicey the whole situation can get, especially when the player’s handler (in this case his father) leaves a great deal to be desired in the moral and ethical departments.

Billy Riggins continues his tour-de-force in molding Luke into some distorted image of Tim. Luckily, Luke is able to filter out some of the terrible advice, and latch on to the things that will just make him a better football player. Billy really can’t make anyone a better person.

Poor Buddy thinks he and the old school guys are going to protect the Lions from rivalry week, only to realize time has past him by. Battle are fought online now old man.

Why no JD McCoy at quarterback for West Dillon? Did I miss something there?

I get the feeling Vince’s saving grace will come in the form of Jess. Where he’ll have to choose between his father and the girl.

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