Given college football fans' obsession, it's easy to forget that coaching is a profession much like any other. People get hired and fired, promoted and demoted, and sometimes they have to change jobs because one either isn't fulfilling enough or isn't maximizing their abilities. Sometimes, an opportunity arises elsewhere, and a coach moves to another state entirely. That brings the experience of having to find a new home, something that's even more difficult during football season.
Missouri strength and conditioning coach Lee Williams was given the opportunity to move to Columbia after a successful seven-year run at Prairie View A&M, where the Panthers won the SWAC championship in 2009, their first conference football title since 1964. Williams lived in temporary housing in Columbia to start, but his girlfriend Danyale was also planning to move to Missouri to join him. They needed permanent housing and were having trouble finding a place.
So what does a couple do when looking for tips on how to buy a home? It turns to House Hunters.
“We always watch the TV show together,” Lee said. “[Danyale] called them and inquired about the steps you take once you relocate to find a new place and buy a home. She spoke to one of the producers and was asking for basic information. They started asking her, ‘Where are you actually relocating?’ She said, ‘Well, I’m not moving just yet, but my boyfriend is at the University of Missouri as a strength and conditioning coach for football and track.’ They started asking her more questions about the distance and our families, and it got to be more interesting with Missouri joining the SEC."
The addictive and sometimes outlandish HGTV show has aired more than 500 episodes and a seemingly endless number of spinoffs, and the producers, being football fans, thought Williams and his soon-to-be wife would make for a good fit. The producers had the pair send in a short audition tape before making a final decision.
“The next thing we knew there were nine producers fighting over us for the right to bring us on,” Lee said.
The time frame of looking for a house during football season was already a tough one. Every time Danyale came to visit for a football game, she looked around for potential homes with the real estate agent. At lunch, Lee would join them before bolting back to practice.
Once the couple narrowed the search down to three or four final choices (one of which would be the eventual selection), the crew made its way to Columbia to film. The House Hunters folks came back later to get B-roll of a football game (the Tigers' 31-27 loss to Syracuse on Nov. 17, 2012), and the crew was at the mercy of lighting, so filming had to be done during lunch or in the early morning, since Lee had practice in the afternoon.
Filming took Lee out of his comfort zone and forced him to learn on the fly. But he found that, just as in successful weightlifting, the key to making it work was repetition and proper technique.
"The filming process is definitely something that was out of the norm for me," Lee said. “I’m used to working the sidelines at a football game, with ESPN film crews there. I’m used to managing games, directing crews, when it comes to athletics. I’ve worked behind the scenes often. But when you’re on camera, there are certain things you can’t say and certain things you have to be mindful of when you’re putting a show together. Everything has to be organized.”
The real estate agent would let Lee and Danyale into a room, and there needed to be a sense of balance. If someone grabbed a doorknob with a right hand, a shot involving the left hand would have to come later. Lee quickly got used to hearing “Cut!" One day after a hard shoot, he actually fell asleep between takes at a local coffee shop.
“You get to the point where somebody would start laughing,” Lee said. “And you hear ‘Cut!’ one more time, and suddenly you’re smiling too big. They want it to seem as genuine as possible, and the key was just to be relaxed, fluid and comfortable. That was the crazy part.”
Eventually the pair settled on the third house, one that was spacious, set back in the country and had a large backyard with plenty of room for grilling, something Lee made clear was important to him on the show. The two have gone through a number of renovations to make the house their own. Soon, they'll be on another version of House Hunters, the "Where Are They Now?" edition, schedule to air around the end of the year.
It's been a whirlwind year for Lee and Danyale. Between football season and looking for a house, Lee took a trip down to Texas to visit her last season, and he proposed during homecoming on the 50-yard line (she said yes) to a nice ovation from the crowd. The two were married this year, and the support they've received from the Tigers community has been overwhelming.
Missouri finds itself 5-0 entering its game against Georgia on Saturday, and the success has meant a lot to Lee, who has seen the team's hard work on the field and in the weight room pay off.
"The people are a lot more invested at Missouri," Lee said. "The alumni have welcomed us with open arms. They helped us a lot, finding a real estate agent and other resources like contractors to model our home. They’ve really taken care of us. This is a college town. Everyone loves Mizzou. The athletic department has really received me well and been quite supportive. They loved the idea that I was going to be on House Hunters."
When the episode aired, the couple had a party at a bar downtown that ended up being one of the filming locations, and many people in the athletic department attended. Lee and Danyale were thrilled with how the episode turned out, and they’re even happier to have found a home in Columbia.
The house is as good for entertaining as Lee hoped, and he’s getting plenty of use out of his grill. But he has developed a bit of a reputation with the football players -- more of whom watch HGTV than he thought.
"One of my defensive linemen was like, ‘I watch this show every night,’ and I was like, ‘What?" Lee said. “He DVR’d it when he saw it was playing earlier in the week. The word spread, and the majority of the football team were at home watching it. Now, they call me ‘the local TV star.’ They think it’s hilarious. “Now they want to come over to the house for a barbecue.”