20 Years Later: Recasting ‘The Program’
By Jim Weber
It’s a tragedy that about half of college kids today weren’t even alive when one of the greatest sports movies of all time was released in 1993: The Program.
In what has become a cult classic over the last two decades, the film about the fictional ESU Timberwolves football program set a new bar for hyperbole in campy sports movies that has yet to be matched despite attempts by the likes of Blue Chips (1994), Varsity Blues (1999), Any Given Sunday (1999) and the short-lived ESPN series “Playmakers” (2003).
The movie had endless memorable quotes that are still cherished by people with a quirky sense of humor (like myself) and was ridiculously and hilariously melodramatic in the way it wrapped every negative stereotype about college football into 112 masterful minutes of cinema: Alcohol abuse, academic fraud, NCAA violations, sexual assault, dirty boosters and corruption that went all the way to the top of a university.
If you’ve never seen it, this brief clip sums up everything I love about the movie:
In honor of the 20-year anniversary of the film’s theatrical release and at a time when the college football underworld is grimier than ever, I have recast The Program using real-life characters currently in and around college football:
Sam Winters: Gene Chizik
James Caan was perfectly cast as the morally conflicted college football coach on the hot seat who looked the other way in the face of NCAA infractions to keep his job. And no one knows the hot seat and controversy better than former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik.
Heckled upon his arrival to Auburn, Chizik spent all of last season getting pummeled by criticism during a 3-9 campaign before getting axed. While he defiantly states Auburn “did it right” when it won the 2010 national title and has yet to be proven guilty of any wrongdoing, the number of NCAA violation accusations lobbed at Auburn during his tenure reads like a laundry list.
Joe Kane: Casey Pachall
I don’t want to make light of Pachall’s alcohol problems but it’s scary how similar he is to Kane. Both ended up in rehab during the season after struggling with booze, and both march to the beat of their own drum.
In a deleted scene, Kane laid down in the middle of the road with traffic whizzing by to prove he doesn’t get scared, while Pachall has turned his body into a personal mural of tattoos, with odd hairstyles and photos to boot. Hopefully Pachall will be able to bounce back and finish on a winning note like Kane did.
Darnell Jefferson: Thomas Tyner
In a breakout role for Omar Epps, Jefferson was the highly-recruited, hot dog running back with no fear. Haven’t heard the name Thomas Tyner before? You will soon. The Oregon recruit rushed for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns last fall in high school - in a single game.
A brash speed-demon like Epps’ character, Tyner looks to be the next great running back in Eugene. Let’s hope he hangs on to the ball better than Jefferson did and isn’t forced to carry a pigskin around campus. The real question: Can Tyner possibly be as smooth with the ladies?
Autumn Haley: Sydni Paige Russell
How in the world do you cast someone to fill the coed tutor role originally played by one of the most beautiful women in the world, Halle Berry? You find someone as stunning as LSU student Sydni Paige Russell, the girlfriend of ex-Tigers CB Tyrann Mathieu and a cheerleader for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
If Russell was a tutor in Baton Rouge like Haley, you can bet Tigers football players would be lining up out her door to study.
Steve Lattimer: Morgan Breslin
In the greatest college football movie scene ever aside from the ending to Rudy, the steroid-fueled Lattimer screams “Starting defense, place at the table!” after seeing a newly-released depth chart and subsequently smashes his head into car windows in the parking lot.
No, I’m not implying that Breslin is on steroids. But like Lattimer, Breslin came out of nowhere last year after transferring from Diablo Valley Junior College to become one of the best pass rushers in the country, with 13 sacks. And like Lattimer, Breslin isn’t the warm, cuddly type. He has yet to speak to the L.A. media once aside from offering, “No comment.” Can we quote you on that?
Alvin Mack: Ryan Shazier
Mack is the intense, freak-of-nature linebacker destined for the NFL before he blows out his knee. Hopefully the parallels to Shazier don’t extend to the latter. Shazier is arguably the hardest-hitting, most-intimidating linebacker in college football right now; even Shazier’s head shots look like he’s ready to pummel someone.
Ask ex-Cal QB Zach Maynard (above) and former Wisconsin RB Montee Ball what it’s like to get leveled by this Buckeye. If Shazier were ever mic’d up for a game, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him accuse opponents of shooting his mom, snitching on his brother to the cops or impregnating his baby sister — all memorable lines by Mack in the movie.
[Warning: Video is strongly NSFW.]
Camille Shafer: Katherine Webb
This was too easy. Need a stunning brunette to play the love interest of the star quarterback? This role can only be played by AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, who has become a national celebrity since Brent Musburger oggled her during January’s BCS title game.
In the film, Kristy Swanson is a school tennis player rehabbing an injured knee. Webb can relate to the pain after recently having to leave the ABC reality diving show “Splash” due to a back injury.
Ray Griffen: Kenny Hilliard
Like Griffen, Hilliard was supposed to be the Big Man on Campus before a freshman came in and supplanted him. Darnell Jefferson not only stole Griffen’s starting job, he also stole the upperclassman’s girlfriend.
As for Hilliard, he had to watch last fall as freshman Jeremy Hill turned into the Tigers’ stud running back. I’m sure Hilliard is a much better teammate than Griffen but wouldn’t be surprised if he secretly views Hill as “just another gangbanger with speed” after Hill’s recent arrest for battery.
Bud-Lite Kaminski: Taylor Lewan
Not only do Kaminski and Lewan share the same uniform number, but also they both are the big goofball lineman you expect to see smashing a beer can against his head.
Kaminski had his trademark flat-top hair cut and a love of suspenders, while Lewan is covered in tattoos, has ink of a mustache on his finger so he can do this whenever he pleases and has now added the real thing to his arsenal of tomfoolery. No one would be surprised if Lewan tells defensive linemen, “We’re running doggies in the end zone and the trail leads right over your a**.”
Bobby Collins: Tommy Rees
Collins is the backup quarterback who fills in for Kane while he’s in rehab, while Rees also knows about stepping up when he’s called upon. The Notre Dame backup helped bail out the Irish late in games last season against the likes of Purdue, Michigan and Stanford.
While looking like the boy next door, both Collins and Rees also have mischief in them. Collins was thrown out of school for cheating on a test while Rees was arrested and charged last May for one count of battery and two counts of resisting arrest.
Louanne Winters: Nicki Meyer
The coach’s daughter with the girl-next-door look, Louanne finds her way into trouble when she gets busted taking a test for Collins, resulting in his explusion. Urban Myer’s daughter, Nicki (right in the rightmost photo), has a uniquely spelled name like Louanne and was a college athlete herself as a Georgia Tech women’s volleyball player who finished her collegiate career last fall.
Touchstone Pictures, I’ll be awaiting your call on an offer for casting director of the remake.