The Newsroom Briefing: Coach McAvoy

“Amen” was set during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

Aaron Sorkin has written sports movies before, the Olympics are around the corner, and this is a sports website. I want to say that because I’m addicted to sports, I was able to see how the entire episode was just one giant sports team metaphor… But Sorkin made it so painfully obvious that by the end of the episode, “Coach” McAvoy might as well have had a Gatorade cooler dumped on him.

The entire episode was built on the concept of coaching, and what coaches do for their players. They’re supposed to mentor their players in the game and in life, and pass down whatever knowledge they have. They’re role models and authority figures. In “Amen” Will, Maggie, Don, Gary (I was going to say “The Token Black Guy” but IMDB and my senses know better), and Sloan were the coaches. Here’s how the teams broke down compared to past coach-athlete tandems:

Maggie-Jim
Maggie, concerned for her own Valentine’s Day with Don, planned the perfect one for Jim and his “girlfriend”/her roommate Lisa. Jim, reluctant to force love upon a girl he’s been on four dates with, is apprehensive. Maggie persists, as she’s already booked reservations at Lisa’s favorite restaurant, bought her a charm for her bracelet, and picked out some lingerie to top the night off. Instead of Maggie balking at Jim and Lisa’s relationship, she’s now embraced it so she doesn’t have to deal with Lisa’s “I’m Single Why Don’t Guys Like Me?” routine. Think Mike Shanahan and Jake Plummer in 2005. Shanahan created an offense perfectly tailored to Plummer, but Plummer still shat the bed in the biggest game of the season. Jim ended up forgetting about his perfectly planned Valentine’s Day and his date with Lisa.

Don-Elliot
While Elliot was in Cairo reporting on the Egyptian Revolution, Don ordered him to leave his hotel do some on the ground reporting. Elliot was subsequently beaten and bloodied by a mob. Once Elliot returned, Don wanted to put a bruised and maimed Elliot back on the air to show the human interest side of reporting. Don wanted to prove that not all journalists are in Ivory Towers with typewriter. They’re on the ground, putting themselves in harms way for the news. At one point, Don even told Elliot, “You’re benched.” Sorkin was really trying to drive the sports metaphor home I guess. This one has Dusty Baker-Mark Prior written all over it. Dusty rode Mark’s prodigious 22 year old arm 225 innings in 2003 while trying to win the pennant. Prior averaged 113 pitches per start, including 126 PPS in his September starts and another 120 PPS in the post season. Since 2003, he’s never thrown more than 166 innings in a single season, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, all while struggling with elbow, shoulder, groin, and achilles injuries. Both Don and Dusty rode their guys too hard, got them hurt, and wanted them to return early from injury to prove something.

Gary-Will
Yes, even Will McAvoy got a little coaching advise here. The gossip magazine TMI had been attacking Will for his crazy dates, and were now prepared to go after Mackenzie. Her boyfriend was planning on running for Congress, but he never told her, instead using Mackenzie to get him on News Night to raise his own profile. TMI slammed the News Night crew for that, and were now preparing to go after Mackenzie for almost getting her team killed while reporting in Pakistan, and Will for hiring his ex-girlfriend to be his executive producer—a conflict of interest to an outsider. Gary, who used to work at TMI, told Will that the magazine could be paid off to not run the story. Think Michael Jordan’s first retirement. Jordan retired so he could play baseball, but that’s not what really happened. Why would Michael Jordan, the most pathological winner of all-time, walk away from basketball at his absolute peak to go 0-3 with 3 strikeouts and ride minor league buses in the hopes of making to the majors? Saying that he “lost the desire to play the game” is absolute bullshit. Months before he retired, it came out that Jordan had been gambling millions away, which depending on the gambles, could’ve been a violation of NBA rules. NBA Commissioner David Stern probably told Jordan to retire for a year or so, and let the controversy die down so Stern wouldn’t have to hand down a crippling suspension. Walk away, and your problems will be solved. In Will’s case, he could’ve secretly paid TMI, and his troubles would’ve been solved as well. He either paid the secret price (Jordan’s faux retirement in this case), or dealt with the harming media blitz to himself and News Night (Jordan’s suspension/black-eye for the league and himself).

Sloan-Mackenzie
Mackenzie needed to learn about economics for a panel she was invited to speak to about the media and the economy. Sloan, who’s News Night’s economics analyst and someone who could be a millionaire on Wall Street, was enlisted as Mackenzie’s economics coach. Mackenzie didn’t know the difference between an investment bank and a commercial bank before Sloan coached her up. After some coaching, she was an amateur on the Glass-Steagall act. This one has Happy Gilmore-Chubbs all over it. Happy, who couldn’t even make a putt before Chubbs came along, had to get better at golf to win the Tour Championship. Sloan was Mackenzie’s Chubbs, except Mackenzie didn’t accidentally kill Sloan with a dead crocodile head.

Will-News Night
At the beginning of the episode, a mini-argument broke out in the conference room about the movie “Rudy.” Jim had never seen it before, so Will explained the plot: a kid works hard to get into college, then works even harder to make the football team’s practice squad. Every week, he dreams of being named to dress for the game on Saturday, and every week for four years he gets disappointed. Rudy gets his ass kicked in practice, but he sucks it all up for the hope that he’ll suit-up one day. Before the last game of Rudy’s senior year, his name doesn’t get called to dress. One of the last scenes shows every player on the team handing in their jersey to their coach, because they want Rudy to take their spot on the team. Yes, the plot of “Rudy” was actually explained on The Newsroom.

At the end of “Amen,” the same exact thing happens with Will and his staff, but checks replace the jerseys. His show had acquired a freelance Egyptian nicknamed “Amen” to report on the ground in Cairo. While on assignment, Amen was abducted, with his captors demanding $250,000 for his release. Corporate was unwilling to pay, so Will stepped up and paid the ransom. His reason? “He’s one of our guys.” Mackenzie got the entire office to write checks to Will to help contribute to the ransom, and in “Rudy” fashion, they lined up and dropped the checks on Will’s desk, with “Coach” written in the memo of each check.

Will has been a staunch defender of his staff, and showed that fire in his monologue to a TMI reporter who demanded money in exchange for not running the story on Mackenzie. Will said: “Come after me all you want Lena. Come after me everyday, look through my garbage, invent things out of thin air—that’s what you’re paid for. But you touch my staff, and you’re walking into a world of hurt. I have an hour of primetime every night and I will rededicate my life to ruining yours.”

There’s a cross between Bill Russell’s dedication to the team, Jack Twyman’s care, and Michael Jordan’s commitment to vanquishing opponents in Coach McAvoy. We’re all waiting for him to buckle his broadcasts under the pressure of Leona Lansing’s juggernaut, but it appears that Will has no plans to—he believes in his cause and his teammates too much.

Between all of the coaching and the bizzarre array of injuries (Elliot’s mugging, Don’s shoulder sprain, Jim’s concussion, and Neal’s broken fingers), “Amen” should’ve been named “Hail Mary”—a play that only Will McAvoy’s team could draw up.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

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