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Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler)The head coach of the Dillon Panthers in seasons 1-3, and the East Dillon Lions in 4-5. Happily Married to Tami Taylor, and father to Julie and Gracie Belle.
- A Father to His Men: Especially Matt and Vince.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Coach—along with his wife Tami—is probably the nicest person on the show and serves as the town's moral touchstone on many occasions. That being said, if you EVER hurt his wife, his daughters OR his players, Coach will make you sincerely sorry (often without actually speaking), and even the toughest man will find himself apologizing profusely by the time he's done talking to him. The best part? When he's angry, he manages to be terrifiyingly intimidating without crossing any moral lines. (Again, he is the show's moral center)
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": More often than not, he will be referred to as Coach and not Eric
- Nice Guy: There's a reason everyone in town wants him to be their confidant.
- Nice Hat
- Papa Wolf: To his daughters and his team.
- Even more terrifying, when Julie comes home from college and confesses to having an affair with her married TA, and said TA shows up at the Taylors' house, Coach silently strides out and physically chases him back into his car and actually smashes the taillight as the car pulls away. Doubles as a HUGE instance of Beware the Nice Ones.
- Parental Substitute: Most notably to Matt.
- Reasonable Authority Figure
- Verbal Tic: Calls his players "Son" very often, showing that he thinks of Them as family.
Tami Taylor (Connie Britton)The coach's wife who is not content to be just the coach's wife in a town crazy about football. Guidance counselor and then principal at West Dillon High, and mother of Julie and Gracie Belle. Eminently quotable.
- Alliterative Name
- Career Versus Man: Subverted. Eric and Tami may quarrel a bit sometimes over school-related things, but it never affects their family to the point of breaking.
- Catch Phrase: "Hi, honey!"
- Also, "y'all."
- Deadpan Snarker
- Fan Nickname: Mrs. Coach, after a gloriously awkward encounter onscreen involving her and Matt Saracen.
- The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: In Season 2.
- Honor Before Reason
- Mama Bear: To Julie and to some of the other girls at the school, especially Lila, Tyra, Becky and Epyck.
- Reasonable Authority Figure
- Silent Snarker: In the pilot episode, the scene where the gossipy wives invite Tami to join them for a book club meeting and act in a way that can only be described as transparently "fake nice," Tami's facial expression says it all, before she replies "Uh-huh, yeah! Sure."
Julie Taylor (Aimee Teegarden)The teenage daughter of the Taylors. Starts out as a freshman in high school; is through her freshman year of college when the series ends.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: She suddenly becomes this at the beginning of Season 2, though later episodes mitigate this. Otherwise she is often mature, level-headed and kind.
- Odd Friendship: With Tyra at first.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: She originally had no interest in Matt because he's a football player. Once she gets to know him better and realizes he isn't a typical Jerk Jock, she falls for him and dates him.
- Snark Knight
Dillon High School/The Dillon Panthers
Jason Street (Scott Porter)Former star quarterback of the Dillon Panthers. Suffers a severe spinal injury in the pilot episode that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
- The Ace
- Back for the Finale: Scott Porter came back to film an alternate scene for the ending montage. It wasn't used in the show nor is it on the DVDs, but a screenshot of it can be found on the Season 5 set.
- Decoy Protagonist: The first episode builds him up as the most prominent of the football players in the main cast, then his injury happens, leading to Matt taking his place. He does remain a major character, however.
- The Determinator
- Happily Married: Finally finds happiness and settles down during his final arc)
- Took a Level in Jerkass: After his accident, although difficult to blame him, especially in light of Tim and Lyla's betrayal (though they eventually resume their friendships).
- Joisey: Moves there when he becomes a sports agent (his job is in the Big Applesauce though).
- Out of Focus: He was initially a main character but left towards the end of season three to work in New York.
- Papa Wolf: There really isn't anything he won't do for his son.
- Put on a Bus
- The Bus Came Back: For one episode in Season 5.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: He can a real jerk to Tim (Not without cause) but They do really care about each other.
Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly)Cheerleader and girlfriend of Jason Street when the series starts. Comes from a Mc Mansion family barely holding together at the seams.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Her adulterous father who seems to care more about football than his own kids definitely qualifies.
- Brainy Brunette: She's smart enough to get into Vanderbilt; however, she first says she's going to follow Jason to Notre Dame in Season 1 and then, after Jason follow Tim to San Antonio State at the end of 3. She doesn't do either.
- The Cheerleader: Natch. Then she throws her uniform in the garbage.
- Stepford Smiler
- Your Cheating Heart
Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch)
- Brilliant, but Lazy: He's an excellent player and a pretty good student but has very little ability to apply himself to anything. He ends up quitting college after getting halfway through the first period of his first class
- Deadpan Snarker: Probably the most sarcastic character in the series.
- Disappeared Dad
- Hard Drinking Party Guy: You could probably take a shot everytime Tim isn't in the middle of drinking a beer and finish the series without even feeling tipsy.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Went to jail to protect his brother who had just become a father.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Jason.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He can be be a real jerk at times but has a very sweet and warm exterior underneath. Most notably when he starts acting as a mentor to younger players like J.D. or consoles his friends like Matt or Becky.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Jason and his brother Billy. Most of his friendships qualify due to his sarcastic nature.
Tyra Collette (Adrianne Palicki)
- Broken Bird: Seems well on her way to becoming this when we first meet her, even more so after we meet her mother, who is a full-fledged, pill-popping Broken Bird in a string of abusive relationships who doesn't want her daughter to go to college. Ultimately averts it; gets out of Dillon and goes to UT.
- Cool Big Sis: Plays this trope to Julie in Season 1.
- Disappeared Dad
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl
- Platonic Life Partners: With Landry after Their breakup.
- Poisonous Friend: At first to Julie, inadvertently getting her arrested even.
- She's Got Legs: And everyone knows, including Tami, who takes advantage of Tyra's height to boost up the floundering girls volleyball team.
Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles)
- Boisterous Bruiser
- Disappeared Dad
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Came back from a confidence-shattering injury to end up earning a spot with Texas A&M. As of the end of the series, he is the only Panther or Lion to have successfully transitioned to college football.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Under his cocky exterior, he does care about his family, friends, and teammates.
- Justified Criminal: When he starts taking steroids in season one, he is only doing so to improve his chances of going to college and getting his family out of poverty. Subverted when his mother finds out, and reports him. She makes it clear that she doesn't want out of poverty if they can't get their legally.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: When someone calls him "Brian", its a sign of something important.
- Put on a Bus: Thanks to Gaius Charles wanting to quit acting to become a minister, though he's since returned to it.
- Small Name, Big Ego / Insufferable Genius: Had his moments but Coach Taylor was always quick to bring him back down to earth.
- Third-Person Person
Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford)
- Always Someone Better: J.D. McCoy. Though Matt is later called upon to fix J.D.'s mistakes, implying that Matt really was the better player all along.
- Butt Monkey: If something terrible is going to happen, there's a good chance it will be to Matt.
- Closet Geek
- The Determinator
- Disappeared Dad: His dad joined the Army and Matt believes he was a much better soldier than he was a parent. He even goes so far as to encourage his dad to go back to Iraq after he suggests his grandmother go to a nursing home.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Landry
- Honor Before Reason
- Iron Woobie
- Missing Mom: She comes back in season three and tries to make amends.
- Nice Guy
- Parental Substitute: Sadly, due to his grandmother's dementia and his father's absence, Matt is Grandma Saracen's primary caregiver, which is a lot for a teenager to handle. Nevertheless, Matt clearly loves her and would do anything for her, and despite his difficulties dealing with this role he manages to ensure that she's well cared for throughout the series.
- Coach Taylor becomes this for Matt himself. Given Matt's father's years of absence and emotional detachment, it's desperately needed.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Matt's the Sensitive Guy to Riggins's Manly Man (actually, he's also the Sensitive Guy compared to Smash and a lot of the other players on the team too). But Matt is also the Manly Man to Landry's Sensitive Guy.
- Those Two Guys: With Landry
- Vitriolic Best Buds: He's never been shy about making fun of Landry though he obviously cares about him a lot.
- Weak, but Skilled: Lacks the raw physical talent of a J.D. McCoy or Voodoo Tatum, but is a shrewd tactician who knows every play and route in the book.
- When He Smiles: He has a pretty sweet nerdy grin that comes out on the few occasions he's happy. Its always nice to see.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: It mostly comes from being forced to look after his ill grandmother at only sixteen.
Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons)
- Accidental Misnaming: Coach Taylor never seemed to stop addressing him as "Lance".
- Actor-Shared Background: Jesse Plemons is one of the few cast members who is also from Texas and who did play high school football.
- Back for the Finale: Shows up for one final scene with Matt.
- Beware the Nice Ones: It took him no time at all to beat Tyra's would be rapist to death.
- Butt Monkey: In Season one. After that, it mostly wears off. By season four, he is possibly the most competent character on the team.
- Deadpan Snarker: He's not shy about pointing about other people's stupidity.
- The Heart: Of the Panthers and later the Lions.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Matt.
- The Insomniac: Supposedly. Matt says he's one in the first episode, but it's never followed up on.
- Nice Guy: Definitely one of the nicest in the series.
- Only Sane Man
- Platonic Life Partners: With Tyra after their split; though they're not dating, he does everything he can to make sure Tyra gets into college. He also has this with Devin and Jess.
- The Smart Guy
- Ruleof Creepy: In season 1, to Tyra. He constantly follows her around and pushes himself on her when she is very clearly not interested.
- Southern-Fried Genius
- Took a Level in Badass: Particularly when he joins the team.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: He and Matt are not shy about exchanging snarky comments, though they really care about each other.
J.D. McCoy (Jeremy Sumpter)
- Abusive Parents: His dad to the point that he beat him for being justifiably angry at him and tried to ruin his relationship with a girl.
- The Ace: In Season three
- Broken Ace: He's talented, but also very messed up emotionally.
- Adorkable: At first.
- Butt Monkey: Much of the team treats him as this early on in season three.
- Jerkass / Took a Level in Jerkass: In Season four.
- No Social Skills: In season three, thanks to his upbringing.
- Put on a Bus: Leaves Dillon along with his father between Seasons 4 and 5, given only a passing mention.
- Small Name, Big Ego: For a guy who choked at State the prior season, J.D. really does think the world of himself in season four.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: His dad keeps him searching for approval.
East Dillon High School/The East Dillon Lions
Vince Howard (Michael B. Jordan)
- Broken Ace: He's an excellent football player, but his father went to prison and his mother is depressed and addicted to heroin.
- Promotion to Parent: Due to his mother's aforementioned heroin problem, Vince is responsible for holding down a job to keep food on the table.
Luke Cafferty (Matt Lauria)
- Determinator: In season four, to a degree that's almost painful to watch.
- Nice Guy: Was fully prepared to help Becky raise their baby, before she had an abortion.
Dallas Tinker (LaMarcus Tinker)
- Big Fun
- The Danza: Same last name as his character.
- Nice Guy: He is the only member of the team who shows up to help Luke and his dad build a fence, and he does it just because Luke looks tired at school.
Jess Merriweather (Jurmee Smollett)
- Daddy's Girl
- Outnumbered Sibling: Has four younger brothers
- Tomboy: A HUGE football fan - and she's knows her stuff. She teaches Landry to kick a field goal.
Becky Sproles (Madison Burgess)
- Broken Bird
- Disappeared Dad
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Subverted. After getting pregnant, she gets an abortion and is treated sympathetically by the show for doing so.
- Stepford Smiler: Her optimistic attitude hides the broken fragile young girl beneath it.[[/folder]
Buddy Garrity, Jr.
- Ascended Extra: Was a bit character in the first couple seasons, who we barely saw and merely served as a plot device, along with all the other Garrity kids other than Lyla. He returns all grown up in the final season after spending the last few years in California and joins the team.
- I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: Buddy's mom's new boyfriend, a soccer-loving vegetarian Hipster, trains Buddy Jr. to hate football, even though he'd previously loved it as a kid (and part of it may have been Buddy Jr. seeking a way to lash out against Buddy Sr. for being a terrible father and husband) and he repeatedly insists that American football is a "barbaric" game upon his return from San Francisco. But after he returns to Dillon, Buddy Sr. helps Jr. regain his love of the game.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: He and the other Garrity kids start becoming this way after living with their mom's new boyfriend in San Francisco, who is very much a hipster. Buddy Senior makes it his mission to deprogram them from this, and actually succeeds.
- Demoted to Extra: When he first showed up, it looked like he was going to be a major character and possibly end up in a love triangle with Jess and Vince. But he actually starts getting fewer lines as the episodes progress.
- I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: Similarly to Buddy Jr., he initially views football as "barbaric", but Coach Taylor makes a convert out of him. He ends up loving his time on the team.
Family and Friends
Lorraine Saracen (Louanne Stephens)
- Actor-Shared Background: Louanne Stephens has experience volunteering with dementia patients in nursing homes, and drew on that for her portrayal.
- Cool Old Lady: Can drink with the best of them.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: "Matthew, you need to get a new friend."
Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland)
- Good Ol' Boy
- Heel–Face Turn: In season four, he stops supporting the Panthers and helps Coach Taylor build up support for the Lions.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Coach Taylor.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He can be a real sleaze but he's a loving father and very loyal friend underneath it.
- Pet the Dog: His defense of the Panthers in season 4.
- Sexist Used Car Salesman: His cars aren't used, but he otherwise fits.
- Your Cheating Heart: It doesn't end well.
Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett)
- Abusive Parents: Starts off as a Control Freak before physically abusing his son.
- Control Freak: He won't even let J.D. eat a candy bar.
- Jerkass: The biggest one in the series.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: He uses his wealth to make sure everything goes his way, which brings him into conflict with Coach Taylor who cannot be bought.
- Sports Dad: He's pretty much an Expy of Marv Marinovich.
Mindy Collette Riggins (Stacey Oristano)
- Ascended Extra: Began Season 1 as little more than a background character for the guys to ogle at and Tara to be pissed at, but beginning with her engagement to Billy she began to have more involved role and a significant one in season 5.
- Parental Substitute: Becomes this for Becky when her mother leaves and she is stuck living with her step-mom while her father on the road.