A comedy with Fred MacMurry as the hapless coach at good ole State U? Losing season? Job in jeopardy? Bring on the Flubber! Where’s the field goal kicking mule? And how about that invisibility serum and/or speed pill? And the mascots? You know they’re going to get kidnapped or at the very least eat the playbook right before State U takes on City Tech, right?
Clearly I was thinking of some other way cooler films because as I watched the season progress for Fred and State U., I noticed that not only was there a dearth of superpowered mules, super fast ringers, and bizarre laboratory experiments, but this stupid college didn’t even seem to have a mascot, let alone one that ate everything in sight!
To Fred’s credit, he did recognize what every college coach in desperate straits does – that fundamentals need to be flushed down the toilet with the rest of the losing season and that to win the final job saving game against your arch rival, you need to go into your bag of tricks! It’s time for some razzle dazzle! Flea flickers, half-back options, fumblerooskies, and corking your bat is the only way to go when the chips are down!
The only problem is that Fred has been holding out his “secret weapon” until the last possible second and then when it’s time to put the guy in, he bumps his head, gets knocked out and misses the play. State U. responds to the pressure as any really great bad team would and manages to throw an interception that’s returned for a touchdown as time expires resulting in another loss.
And just what was Fred’s “secret weapon”? Uh, a really fast guy from the track team.
Here’s the really bad part of Fred’s bad season. It wasn’t like he was playing that tough of schedule. He played Purdue, Santa Clara, a Nebraska team that stunk, and the big, last game of the season rivalry? Tulane.
You know, the Green Wave. Football powerhouse down in New Orleans or Waco or Texarkana or somewhere. I’m not sure what’s more humiliating for your college: losing to Tulane or the fact that playing Tulane is the BIG game of the year.
I think the real problem for State U. though isn’t its pathetic schedule, so much as Fred’s coaching style. Simply put, Fred sucks. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t show a lot of fire down on the field regardless of what is transpiring. Black Sunday could be happening out there and Fred would kind of sigh and cross his arms and complain that his players just weren’t good enough to dodge falling blimps.
And what does Fred do after every big time loss? He mopes around and ends up laying down on the couch trying to sleep. Can you say “poor coping mechanism”? He also needed some stiff drinks after the losses and encouraged his maid to bet against his team when it played Tulane, but it wasn’t like he was crooked or anything. I mean, he took the bet personally and bet on his team to win.
But being a crappy football coach isn’t Fred’s sole problem in life. He also has a family with a daughter who is obsessed with the fact that she is homely and isn’t attracting the boys like she desires.
Fred does what he can to boost his gal’s morale. And how exactly does he do that? He does what any father would do when his little girl is facing a losing season – he chucks the fundamentals and goes right into the bag of tricks.
Time for some razzle dazzle! Secret weapon? You bet! Thurston Howell, III didn’t move in next door just to work on his garden.
Jim Backus gets the most amusing scene in the movie when he’s pretending to be a college freshman named Joe Birch and he’s calling up Fred’s daughter (Connie) with a handkerchief over the phone in an effort to disguise his voice.
The next thing you know Connie thinks that Joe Birch is coming over to her house for a date and Maureen O’Hara is demanding that Fred come clean with his deception. Well, sure he could do that or… Onside kick time! Backus hires a guy from a service station to come over and pretend to be Joe Birch.
Maximum plot convergence requires this guy to be Hercules Smith, the highly sought after high school senior quarterback who has spurned hometown school State U. for someplace in France called Notre Dame. You don’t think? Nah!
Following the inevitable collapse of this scheme, Connie redecorates her room in Spartan style so that she can resume her career as an author and sends away for books about having a baby. Strained yucks result as first Fred thinks Maureen’s having a baby and then thinks Connie is having one.
I’ll admit that I giggled just a bit when Connie discovered that some confession type magazine had published her piece entitled “I Was A Child Bubble Dancer” but all of this seemed quite removed from the college football antics I had been banking on to move the chains down the field in this one.
Two problems stood out with this one. First there seemed very little connecting the twin story lines of Coach being a failure as a coach and Coach being a failure as a father.
Hercules gets mentioned about twice and we seemed to forget all about Connie’s romance problems while Coach is away on a road trip and when she becomes an author. There wasn’t much in the way of football related action either, with most scenes consisting of Coach walking off the field toward his nap following the week’s latest loss.
The other problem with the movie is that it just wasn’t very funny. There were a few amusing moments, but by and large scenes just sort of hung there and you kept waiting for the punch line, but all you got was Coach moping and bemoaning his fate.
Now that I think about it, Coach lead a pretty miserable experience. I half expected him to pull a Dick Vermeil and start crying and blubbering about being burned out. I think it was legendary college football broadcaster Keith Jackson who said it best when he said, “FUMMMMBLLLLLLE!”
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