Life Coach: Hayden Fox

Many of us enjoyed the Super Bowl yesterday. Maybe you are a football fanatic, maybe you just wanted to catch the commercials, or perhaps, like many of us, you just wanted someone, anyone, besides the Patriots to win this year. For many Americans, the Super Bowl has become an unofficial holiday.  We prepare certain foods, we throw parties, and decorate the house.

Many movies have been written about football; my favorite is still Remember the Titans, although Brian’s Song (appropriately with Shelly Fabares as Joy Piccolo) still makes me cry. On television we had Friday Night Lights, but when I think back to the classic sitcoms, the only show that came to mind was Coach.

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I remember watching Coach when it was originally on the air from 1989-1997, but my viewing was hit and miss. In my defense, I had two young children then, and they kept my evenings busy. This past year, I caught part of the Coach marathon on Decades. I’ve also been watching it on Antenna TV, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. The characters still ring true for me. Hayden, Christine, Luther, Dauber, and Judy are just exaggerated enough to be fun and quirky. My youngest son attends Minnesota State Mankato, and I knew there were some connections with the show, but I was unsure what they were. I decided this was the perfect time to learn some of the behind-the-scene details of the show and celebrate our national pastimes of football and television watching.

COACH – “Did Someone Call Me Snorer?” – Airdate: January 9, 1995. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) L-R: BILL FAGERBAKKE;JERRY VAN DYKE;CRAIG T. NELSON

Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) is the head coach of a NCAA Division I college football team. His staff, primarily Michael “Dauber” Dybinski (Bill Fagerbakke, later the voice of Patrick on SpongeBob Square Pants) and Luther Van Dam (Jerry Van Dyke), help him coach the Screaming Eagles. His girlfriend is Christine Armstrong (Shelly Fabares), a local newscaster. Christine doesn’t especially love sports, but she loves Hayden even though his narrow mindedness can make her crazy. Their relationship is a give and take that gradually entwines them and allows them to grow together, understanding more about each other, but still retaining very different personalities and points of view. Hayden truly cares about his friends, he just has a gruff manner when showing it. Feelings make him uncomfortable.

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In addition to Christine, Hayden has to learn to be a father again. His ex-wife raised their daughter, and now Kelly (Clare Carey) has enrolled at Minnesota State. Kelly has much more in common with Christine than with Hayden. Eventually she dates and marries Stu, a guy Hayden cannot relate to at all. In 1991, the marriage ends in divorce when Stu falls in love with someone else, and Hayden is relieved to have him out of their lives. Kelly graduates in 1993 and is offered a job at an ad agency in New York and only guest stars after that time. Oddly enough, Carey was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in California but got the part because she was a believable Midwesterner.

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In addition to trying to influence the players on his team to become good men and citizens, Hayden “parents” Dauber who is much younger and Luther who is much older. Luther is a bachelor and has a lack of self-confidence, but he’s a great coordinator and Hayden appreciates him. Dauber has a heart of gold but is not the most intelligent though he can be wise at times. He continues to work with the team, eventually gathering three degrees and dating the women’s basketball coach, Judy (Pam Grier).

Judy and Hayden do not see eye to eye, and she does not have the patience or motivation to be nice to Hayden. Hayden often has harsh words for his athletic director Howard Burleigh, (Kenneth Kimmins) who always has his finger on the bottom line, but Hayden and Christine are friends with Howard and his wife Shirley (Georgia Engels) and, despite their working relationship, we see their underlying friendship developing.

At the end of season seven, Hayden is offered an NFL dream job with the Orlando Breakers. He accepts and takes his staff with him. By this time, he and Christine are married, so she also moves with the coaching staff. The owner of the team, Doris Sherman (Katherine Helmond), is more interested in the perks she gets being an owner than the success of the team. However, Fox gets the Breakers to a wild spot playoff game in the last season, although they lose to Buffalo. Also in the final season, Christine and Hayden adopt a baby boy. The Breakers were a parody of the Jacksonville Jaguars who, like the Breakers, entered the NFL in 1995 and made the playoffs against Buffalo in their second year as a team. The view Hayden sees when he looks out his office window at the stadium is actually the Milwaukee County Stadium, another tie to my Midwest.

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In the season finale, the cast thanks the audience for nine years of support. Van Dyke refuses to believe the series is really over, despite all his co-stars trying to convince him. The fans also are treated to an summary of what the characters did after Coach. Hayden and Christine return to Minnesota to raise their son, even though other NFL teams are interested in Fox as a coach. Luther and Doris are in a relationship, and they build a house similar to Graceland as a tribute to Elvis. Howard and Shirley sell their rare collection of Barbie dolls and use the proceeds to buy a dinner theater in Florida. Dauber takes over the Breakers team as head coach. He wins back-to-back Super Bowls, and when he retires, he joins the Monday Night Football crew as an announcer.

COACH – “Inconceivable” – Airdate: October 17, 1994. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JERRY VAN DYKE

Barry Kemp originally created the role of Hayden Fox for Dabney Coleman, but when ABC was ready to air the show, Coleman was unavailable. Kemp was also the creator of Newhart, and he gives a nod to his previous hit from time to time. In one episode, Christine is reading a book, How To Fly Fish by Dick Louden. In the finale, when Christine and Hayden return to his cabin, there just happen to be several people living there: Larry, Darryl and his “other brother Darryl,” whom all Newhart fans recognize immediately.

Another interesting twist on Coach was the appearance of stars who had personal relationships with the cast. Nanette Fabray, Shelly’s aunt, shows up as Mildred Armstrong, Christine’s mother. Mike Farrell, from M*A*S*H, Shelly’s husband, also appears on an episode. Nelson’s son, Noah, guest stars as a football player in one show, a delivery boy in one show, and the biological father of Fox’s adopted son in two later episodes. Perhaps the most unusual appearance was related to Luther. When Luther learns he was adopted and attends his birth family’s reunion, he tells Hayden that there was no way he could be related to any of these people. At that moment, a guy walks by them. He doesn’t have any lines, but it is Dick Van Dyke, Jerry’s brother.

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Other guest stars included Tim Conway, Elinor Donahue, Lisa Kudrow, Dick Martin, Lucy Liu, Tom Poston, Rob Schneider, and Alan Young.

This show might have more stars appearing as themselves as any sitcom ever. Just a few of these sports heroes include Troy Aikman, George Allen, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Eddie George, Frank Gifford, Kathie Lee Gifford, Bob Griese, Lou Holtz, Keith Jackson, Jimmy Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson, Jerry Jones, Al Michaels, Hank Stram, Joe Theismann, and Johnny Unitas.

Kemp was an alumnus of The University of Iowa. He chose the name Hayden Fox as a tribute to Iowa coach Hayden Fry. Even though the show is supposed to be set in Minnesota, much of it is filmed in Iowa. Many of the exterior shots on the show were taped at the Memorial Union. A couple of residence halls and the Field House also end up on the show.

The theme song was performed by the Iowa State University marching band. They won a national contest, earning the right to record the song.

The footage of football games is actually film from The University of Minnesota football seasons.

The Screaming Eagles was a nod to the line of Harley-Davidson motorcycles which Nelson collected.

Photo: A real photo from Mankato. I could not find a history of the names but how appropriate to have “Armstrong” for Christine and “Nelson” for Hayden’s real name.

In 1989 when the show first aired, there was no Minnesota State University. However, in 1998 Mankato State University became Minnesota State University Mankato ( and Moorhead became Minnesota State University Moorhead). However, there are some similarities between Mankato and the fictional college. Both have purple and gold as their school colors. The campus is about an hour from St. Paul-Minneapolis as is Mankato. (Christine lives in the Twin Cities when they first begin dating.) Hayden lives on a lake and in Mankato, faculty members do live on Lake Washington. The television university was founded in 1867, and Mankato was also created at that time.

Although the finale summed up the lives of the characters, that was not the end of the story. In 2015, NBC ordered 13 episodes of a Coach sequel. Nelson and Kemp came up with a concept where Hayden’s son takes a coaching job at a small college in Pennsylvania. The plan was to retain the original viewers while attracting a new, younger audience. Hayden, now a widower, comes out of retirement to be his son’s assistant coach. Dauber, now married to Judy, also signs on to help with the team. The pilot was filmed, but then NBC changed its mind. There are rumors that the revival may still happen, and other networks might be considering it. We’ll have to stay tuned.

Although the reboot has not come to fruition yet, Nelson, Van Dyke, and Fagerbakke did star again in an episode of The District. Nelson starred in the show from 2000-2004. In “The Black Widow Maker,” Jerry is a grumpy small-town judge and Bill is a police officer.

It’s too bad that the revival has not been fully developed. Considering the shows that were resurrected, often badly, this one sounds like it might have been a hit. Nelson won an Emmy during his time on Coach, but the network moved the show constantly, making it hard for fans to become loyal viewers. It was on every night except Thursday and Sunday. It survived because it worked. The writing was solid, and the characters were realistic. Hayden always had good intentions, and Christine was aware of that. Also, the show was able to survive the changes with Kelly graduating and moving, with the NFL team move; the crew stayed together while circumstances kept the show fresh.

Photo: people.com

The show went on the Antenna TV schedule last January. Do yourself a favor and get to know the Minnesota State crew.

Let’s end with some dialogue that captures the relationship between Hayden and Christine’s real marriage and Hayden and Luther’s work marriage:

Assistant Coach Luther Van Dam: I’ve made out my will, and I’d like you to be my executioner.

Coach Hayden Fox: I think you mean “executor.”

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Coach Hayden Fox to his wife: You think I didn’t respect you Christine, but the truth is, I didn’t even think of you.

Poor Hayden, even when he takes two steps forward, he fumbles and loses yardage.

Elinor Donahue Through the Decades

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Elinor Donahue always displays a warmth and comes across as a genuinely nice person. Her first sitcom became her most famous role.  She played Betty in the iconic Father Knows Best. Although none of her later sitcoms reached the same popularity, she has had a long and full career.

She was born in April of 1937 in Tacoma, Washington. She began tap dancing at 16 months old. As a toddler, she did some acting and received a contract with Universal at the ripe old age of 5. From 1955-1961 she was married to Robert Smith. She was married her second husband, Harry Ackerman, from 1962-1991. Ackerman was a producer for shows including Leave It to Beaver, Gidget, and Bewitched.  She married her third husband Louis Genevrino in 1992.

Donahue appeared in 18 movies between 1942 and 1952 including Tea for Two with Doris Day and My Blue Heaven. She made the transition to television in 1952 appearing in 8 shows in the 1950s. One of the shows I remember her in although I only saw it in reruns was one of my favorite shows, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. She was typically cast as the girl-next-door type. Her most famous role came in 1954 when she was cast in a new sitcom, Father Knows Best.

Father Knows Best – 1954-1960

This was one of the typical family shows of the 1950s. The Andersons lived in Springfield with three children: Betty, called Princess (Elinor Donahue), James Jr., or Bud (Billy Gray) and Kathy, usually called  Kitten (Lauren Chapin). The show debuted in the fall of 1954 on CBS. The show was cancelled in 1955 and the public was furious. Letters came pouring in, so it was reinstated. NBC took over the next year until 1958 when it went back to CBS.  In 1960, Robert Young decided he was done. These were warm and inviting parents, providing guidance and object lessons galore. Critics panned it later because it was not reality.  We have reality shows today, and please, give me fiction. We did learn life lessons on the show – following through on promises, working for what you want, being yourself, and taking responsibility for your mistakes.

Shortly after Father Knows Best left the airwaves, Donahue accepted the role of Elly Walker in The Andy Griffith Show.

The Andy Griffith Show – 1960-1961

Most of us are very familiar with The Andy Griffith Show and many of the characters who inhabit Mayberry:  Widower Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his son Opie (Ron Howard) live with Andy’s Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) who takes care of them;  Barney (Don Knotts) is the inept deputy but also Andy’s best friend;  Helen Crump (Anita Corsaut), the school teacher and Andy’s girlfriend later in the series; Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn), Barney’s girl; Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), town drunk but nice guy; Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), who runs the gas station; and his cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey). Andy had several romances early in the show.  He dated the county nurse Mary Simpson (played by several actresses), spent a limited amount of time with Daphne (Jean Carson) who had a crush on him; and in the first two seasons, he was sweet on Ellie Walker (Donahue), who ran the local drug store. Ellie cared about Andy, but she always stood up for herself and women’s rights.  Andy and Ellie never had the chemistry they were hoping for but they respected each other and like each other. Elinor raved about the cast and her opportunity to be on the show. She said Andy was in charge and expected quality but was fair and a nice man. She described Ron Howard as the best child actor she ever worked with.  She liked Frances Bavier and got along well with her.  She had a huge respect for Don Knott’s comedic ability. She is still friends with Betty Lynn.

She appeared on a variety of shows in the mid-1960s including 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, The Virginian, Dennis the MenaceStar Trek, and The Flying Nun. She tried her luck with one other sitcom in the 1960s.

Many Happy Returns – 1964-1965

This sitcom was also about a widower.  Walter Burnley (John McGiver) ran the Complaint Department at a LA department store. The show also featured his daughter (Donahue) and a coworker Lynn Hall (Elena Verdugo). His boss (Jerome Cowan) did not want him to take in any returns, so he had to resolve complaints without making his boss mad. Apparently Burnley couldn’t solve the complaints that came in from viewers because the show was cancelled after 24 episodes.

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Father Knows Best came out with two television movies in 1977: The Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best – Home for Christmas, and Elinor was in both. While still showing up in random shows during the 1970s such as The Rookies, Police Woman, and Diff’rent Strokes, Donahue found time to appear in two 70s shows on a regular basis.

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The Odd Couple – 1972-1975

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple came to Friday nights in 1970. Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), two divorced men who are complete opposites but best friends, try to live together without killing each other. The show had a great supporting cast including Donohue as Miriam Welby from 1972-1974, Felix’s girlfriend.

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Mulligan’s Stew – 1977

This show from 1977 starred Elinor Donahue as Jane Mulligan.   She and her husband Michael (Lawrence Pressman) are trying to raise three kids on his teacher’s salary when they suddenly add four orphaned nieces and nephews to their family. One of the kids was played by Suzanne Crough, Tracy from The Partridge Family, one of the few shows she was in. The series only lasted for seven episodes.

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The 1980s found Donahue still working regularly.  She was in Barnaby Jones, Mork & Mindy, One Day at a Time, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Golden Girls. One sitcom in the 1980s captured her attention about Beans Baxter.

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The New Adventures of Beans Baxter – 1987

Here is the plot for this one: Beans Baxter’s (Jonathan Ward) father who he thought was a mailman disappears one day.  Teenage Bean discovers that his dad worked for a secret government agency.  He is then drawn into becoming a spy for the government. The show features his adventures as he tries to find the enemy agents who are holding his father hostage while his mother played by Donahue is completely oblivious that anything strange is happening. Viewers also didn’t realize anything was happening because the show was cancelled after 17 episodes.

Entering her 60s, Elinor joined the cast of three sitcoms in the 1990s. She also made several movies including Pretty Woman in 1990 and The Princess Diaries 2 in 2004.

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Get a Life – 1990-1992

Shows don’t get much weirder than this one. Comedian Chris Elliot plays a 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson who lives with wacky parents (Donahue and Bob Elliott, Chris’s real father).  Some of the strange things that happen during the 36 episodes include eating a space alien, beheadings, and a robot paperboy. In this bizarre series, Chris actually dies in a third of the episodes. During the run of the show, he died from old age, tonsillitis, a stab wound, a gunshot wound, was strangled, got run over by a car, choked on his cereal, was crushed by a giant boulder, and actually exploded.

 

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Eek!stravaganza – 1992-1993

Donahue plays “The Mom” in this animated show about Eek, a purple cat who always finds himself in dangerous situations. The series was on the air for five seasons.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman – 1993-1997

During the six years the show was on the air, Donahue reprised her role as Rebecca Quinn ten times. The show followed the ups and downs experienced by a female doctor practicing in a wild western town.

Interestingly, Donahue appeared in three different soap operas toward the end of her career: Santa Barbara, Days of Our Lives, and The Young and the Restless.  Elinor also appeared on a variety of documentaries and award shows. She was in the Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour. In 1998, she wrote her memoirs titled, In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue. The book included about 150 of her favorite recipes. Elinor’s career has been long and she appeared in many shows and movies over the years. She hasn’t appeared in a movie or television show since 2010, although she did do some theater.  In September of 2015, she appeared in one of my favorite plays, “Harvey” in North Carolina.

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Donahue’s career reminds me of many of the actors we have gotten to know in this blog including William Christopher, Betty White, Ken Berry, and Shelly Fabares.  These actors and actresses all appear to be very nice, talented people who have careers they should be proud of.  In a day when bad decisions and selfish actions are splattered across our television screens and newspapers, perhaps one of the best compliments we can give someone is that they had a long and fulfilling career and didn’t step all over other people to achieve it.

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When a rainy day shows up this summer, take a moment to watch some of Elinor’s sitcom episodes. Thank you Elinor Donahue for the entertainment and memories you gave us.

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