The following is a working, and incomplete theory that I have on Ted Lasso. Spoilers onward.
Ted Lasso took Wichita State, a small-scale college football program at a basketball & baseball school, to its first-ever national championship. And then they did something that nobody ever believed could happen: they won the whole dang thing. It was his one and only year ever coaching the sport, which makes the whole title run even more unique. Wichita State was a program that needed somebody who really knew what they were doing and had a great idea on how to achieve such heights in the sport.
Rebecca Whelton, new owner of AFC Richmond (succeeding her ex-husband, Rupert) insisted that the reason she made a change at the head coaching level was because Richmond had only seen “profound mediocrity” over the past several years. She had just hired Ted to be the new person in charge of making a winner out of this team, and told the media that from now on they’d be doing things “The Lasso Way.” Had anybody ever said what “The Lasso Way” really was up to that point? Heck no. Maybe the loudest amplifier to sum up Ted’s style of coaching was when Scott Van Pelt noted that his post-game dancing in the locker room with his guys is more memorable than anything he might’ve done on the field.
Ted Lasso doesn’t care at all about sports. He’s almost incapable of understanding the rules or strategies of anything that happens on the field. Ted says repeatedly that he doesn’t concern himself too much with wins and losses and that his job is to bring out the best people from his players on and off the playing field. While Ted is the most personable guy around at all times with his Kansas City-approved kindness, remembering everybody’s names and personalities along the way, he absolutely cannot retain any information that involves the rules of any sport. It doesn’t matter if he’s been just introduced to the sport or if it’s something the grew up playing for years. There’s something about the marriage between the X’s & O’s and scoring systems that just doesn’t sink in with him.
Ted and Coach Beard get on a plane and head out to England and be fútbol coaches for the first time in their lives. It’s also the first time either of them have ever left the state of Kansas. On the plane, Ted’s reading The Dharma Bums, a 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac. If you’ve never read it before: good you’re in the same boat as me. Ted opens up to chapter 14 which starts with the following excerpt:
But I had my own little bangtail ideas and they had nothing to do with the “lunatic” part of all this. I wanted to get me a full pack complete with everything necessary to sleep, shelter, eat, cook, in fact a regular kitchen and bedroom right on my pack, and go off somewhere and find perfect solitude and look into the perfect emptiness of my mind and be completely neutral from any and all ideas. I intended to pray, too, as my only activity, pray for all living creatures; I saw it was the only decent activity left in the world. To be in some riverbank in Mexico or shack in Adirondack and rest and be kind, and do nothing else, practice what the Chinese call “do-nothing .” I didn’t want to have anything to do, really, either with Japhy’s ideas about society (I figured it would be better just to avoid it altogether, walk around it) or with any of Alvah’s about grasping after life as much as you can because of its sweet sadness and because you would be dead some day.The Dharma Bums (Jack Kerouac, 1958)
One takeaway from the frame is that Ted’s motivation in making a crazy move like this is because he wants to empty his mind, meditate, and live a better life and simply get by with his good manners. But he’s taking on a job that can oversaturate and over-consume the lives of people that usually take up coaching jobs. But Ted’s plan for anything in this job is to defer to other people that might have a good idea. This, more or less, ends up being the bones for what actually is “The Lasso Way.”
The reason why Ted was able to have any success as a coach at any sport is because he comes as a package deal. Coach Beard’s such a sponge for new information that he’s actually a strategical savant. The reason Coach Beard isn’t the head coach of any sport is because he simply lacks the social skills to confront and converse with most people. He’s very selective of who he feels comfortable enough to express himself to and befriend. From the time the two get on a plane to leave Kansas to waking up the next morning in England, Beard:
- Reads Coaching Soccer For Dummies,
- Reads Inverting The Period: The History of Soccer Tactics,
- Tells Ted the history of the game and that it started as a way to get boys to stop masturbating,
- Knows exactly where to get coffee first thing in the morning,
- Picks up on the game’s vernacular,
- And memorizes and understands scouting reports and backgrounds on all of the players on the roster.
To a room full of reporters on his first ~hour of being on the job, Lasso famously said: “You could fill two internets with what I don’t know about fútbol.”
In the season finale, he was still asking the referee and Coach Beard what offsides is. Also, when Manchester City scored on a penalty kick in the second half to put Richmond down 1-0 with relegation on the line, Ted was totally and completely neutral (maybe a little confused?) when everybody else recognized how big of a goal that was.
Of course, we all know that Ted not knowing anything about this sport is canon early on, and his marital issues might be a huge distraction from him learning things about the game he should already know by the end of the season. Still, he goes through a season without knowing much of the rules and leans on Coach Beard and equipment manager-turned-coach Nathan for advice since they usually know better. At no point is he really the decision-maker for on-field situations outside of making personnel substitutions.
Everybody on the team got to pitch a bunch of trick plays/elaborate set pieces to run against Jamie Tartt’s new team in the season finale. Ted Lasso had Coach Beard write down the Lasso Special in the beginning of the week, and Richmond actually ran it to perfection.
Here’s how it was drawn up:
- In American football, this doesn’t work for a number of reasons. Too many men on the line of scrimmage, his linemen are run-blocking on a pass play. It’s illegal as drawn up.
- When this play is ran in the finale vs. Manchester City, the five linemen end up running patterns after they do their pretend football-blocking for four seconds. This wouldn’t work in American football.
- When X’s and O’x are traditionally drawn up, O is on the offensive and X is on the defensive.
This is the only football play Ted came to England with because it’s probably the only play he’s ever drawn up — regardless of what the rules are. I’m sure a play drawn up by Beard would’ve been actually well thought-out and useful (considering Wichita’s perfect season and all). Given how illegal this play is, it’s quite possible that they never ran Lasso Special at Wichita.
In a game of darts against Rupert, Richmond’s previous team owner and divorcee of Rebecca Welton, Ted opened up about his upbringing. Every Sunday from the ages 10-16, Ted and his father would throw darts after church. This man has played hundreds, if not thousands, of games of darts over the course of his lifetime. To win the game, Ted needs to score 170 on three throws. Nobody needs even 10 minutes to learn how the scoring system of the dart board goes. The outer-most rings are worth double points, the inner ring is worth triple, the bullseye is worth 50 and the outer-ring of the bullseye is worth 25. Needing exactly 170 points on three throws is very simple math, and even moreso if you’ve spent over 300 Sundays of your young life playing this game: two triple 20’s and a bullseye. However, Ted looked at the score and asked the bar owner what he needs to throw to win. He’s asking because he’s genuinely didn’t know.
I can buy that Ted might’ve never known anything about football or fútbol before coaching either of those sports which can help explain why he’s not so smart about them. But darts is a game picked up in less than 5 minutes and the fact that he still doesn’t understand the best strategy of scoring 170 after playing the game for so long, then that basically proves that he’s incapable of learning any game with any sort of strategy at all.
AT LEAST TED’S NOT ALONE
Ted obviously doesn’t know much about the sport, but he’s also not alone in the sport’s community in not knowing much about it either. Keeley admits that she doesn’t really like the game or even know much about it, even for as long as she’s been around the sport. But she does know how to act in a crowd to at least fit in.
“I have a confession to make: I’ve never really cared about fútbol. I know, I know it sounds insane. But I know how to act at a match. ‘REFEREE!!! OFFSIDES, YOU TURNIP!!!’ It’s that my heart’s never really been in it, you know?”
I also suspect Paul, the fútbol fan at the pub who doesn’t get super pissed during games and press conferences but is all about enjoying the atmosphere, is in the same boat.
The difference between Keeley (and Paul) and Ted Lasso is that Lasso just hasn’t learned how to totally fake it yet. When his guys score, he’s all about recognizing the goal and celebrates the play. But Lasso still doesn’t know much of the other basics around the sport, so he’s really just out there winging it while hoping that Beard’s already got something good drawn up.
This show spends a lot of energy on the topic of loneliness and how being sad with a group of people is always better than being sad and alone. No matter the situation — whether you’re a sad rich person going through a divorce or you’re one of the best scoring fútbol players in the world who only cheers on “ME! ME! ME!” — loneliness takes on many forms, and nothing is ever more fulfilling than being in lockstep with a community. Knowing absolutely nothing about fútbol in a fútbol community seems like a lonely place to be, but Lasso represents more of AFC Richmond’s community than we might’ve initially thought.