The television drama Friday Night Lights, set in the fictional town of Dillon Texas, ran from 2006 to 2011.
The series revolves around the head coach of the Dillon Panthers, Eric Taylor, and his wife Tami. It explores the intersecting lives and relationships of the Dillon High School students as they struggle toward adulthood. There is an honesty and “realness” to the characters that changes the series from entertainment to something more intimate and personal. Towards that end the director gave the actors permission to ad lib lines they felt were true to their characters. I quickly became invested in Coach Taylor and the families of Dillon.
In particular, I was taken by the stories of the boys trying to find their identities, values and direction as they approached manhood. They are trying to do the right thing without the help or guidance of their fathers who are absent either through alcohol, incarceration, dysfunction or death.
Into this void steps coach Taylor. His wife Tami jokingly describes him as “a molder of men.” He expects the players to be their best on and off the football field. If they don’t step up he does not hesitate to tell them to leave. Some come back and benefit from his guidance and the sense of belonging the team provides. For many it is the first time that a man, a “molder of men,” cares enough to invest himself in their lives. His dedication to them fills in the lack of commitment and the presence of their own fathers.
“Coach” is a man of few words and little outward emotion unless it connects to football or family. He can be hard and harsh as he drives them to be their best. He demands eye contact and their full attention when he conveys his frustrations and instructs them on how to correct their mistakes on the ballfield. Taylor is the alpha male staring down those below him. His approach is primal, fierce and masterful in communicating his passion and desire for them to succeed. An empty place inside gets filled when he fixes his steel green eyes on them and says, “I believe in you.” Coach Taylor is parsimonious with praise but gives it wholeheartedly when he feels it is deserved.
The series is set in Texas and expresses southern values especially about one’s personal and communities’ honor. The Panther’s victories or defeats on the ballfield validate or discredit the community. To the townspeople of Dillon, it is not just a game but a way of maintaining their virtue and integrity. Respect is something that is earned and the coach commands respect for his dedication, hard work and commitment to the team. He is always addressed as “sir” and addresses them as “gentlemen.”
After a key loss, he tells his players, “You will be seen differently by yourselves and others as you leave the stadium tonight. You have extended yourselves to your fullest to win and you have my respect. You are all champions in my eyes.” His belief in them has not wavered, even in defeat. They are honorable because they gave it their all, even if the outcome was not victory.
So, take the time to watch Friday Night Lights and observe Coach Taylor and his passion for his family, football and the lives of the young men on his team. Then think about what you are passionate about. Ask yourself how can you live that passion more fully to benefit yourself and others.
Maybe you will find yourself inspired to make greater effort for your own family or community. An investment in others always brings back something good.