ATLANTA -- Lou Holtz couldn't believe what he was seeing. Tommy Tuberville simply said, 'Wow.' Houston Nutt sat back and chuckled. Nick Saban shook his head slowly and said, "This guy is something else."
"CUT!" director John Lee Hancock shouted. "Let's do that one again."
And so each former or current SEC coach, decked out in the school colors he wore in 2005 (yes, Saban wore a purple and gold LSU tie), pulled his eyes from the monitor and set himself again, ready to pretend to watch highlights of high school offensive tackle Michael Oher for the first time, and react accordingly. Cameramen, grips, microphone holders, sound technicians, directors and makeup artists monitored their every move. When they heard the word action,it was time to go.
Hancock is making The Blind Side, Michael Lewis' best-selling book about Oher's fascinating life and the evolution of the left tackle position in the NFL, into a movie. The Warner Bros./Alcon Entertainment production, scheduled for a November 20 release, recently wrapped 47 days of shooting in Atlanta.
Two of those days involved the above four coaches, along with ex-Ole Miss assistant Ed Orgeron and former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer. In the film the six men play their 2005 selves recruiting Oher, a massive lineman who emerged from obscurity to become one of the most sought-after prospects in the nation. This April, the Baltimore Ravens selected Oher with their first-round draft pick. A decade earlier, though, he was growing up in Memphis without a proper home or family, his father murdered and mother addicted to drugs. All that changed in high school when Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, a wealthy white couple who'd taken Oher into their care, officially adopted him. They did everything they could to get Oher through an academically challenging high school and meet the NCAA eligibility standards that would allow him to play for Ole Miss, where he soon became a star.
Nutt, now Ole Miss' head coach, didn't call Oxford home when Oher joined the Rebels. In fact, none of the six currently coach where they did in '05. Still, they all agreed to go back in time and don their former employers' colors for their cameo appearances.
Fred Smith, founder, president and CEO of Federal Express, asked some of the coaches he calls friends to get involved in the project on behalf of his daughter Molly, the film's executive producer.
When Hancock, who also directed the baseball film The Rookie, wrote the screenplay, he envisioned the coaches playing themselves, but soon realized how challenging it might be for people who had never acted before to film a scene with Sandra Bullock (who plays Leigh Anne Tuohy). After Hancock held a successful trial run with Orgeron, though, he gained confidence. "I thought: We can do this," Hancock said. As soon as Hancock cleared that hurdle, though, another one popped up. "If you get one [coach]," he said, "you have to get them all."
Once Saban agreed to don the purple and gold of a school where portions of the fan base consider him a vile traitor, the other coaches fell into place. "I wanted to make sure there was no conflict in being the LSU coach," Saban said. "This is a historic event. I just did what I did at the time. Fred asked me to do it. The people at Alabama were great about it. I'm sure our fans understand and I know the players understand that our loyalty and love is with Alabama." Before long, interest had grown so much the crew had to turn some coaches away.
Each coach who did sign on filmed two scenes, one in an impeccably recreated office, the other at the Tuohy home set in the Buckhead section of Atlanta a few weeks prior. Only Saban, Orgeron and Fulmer actually paid Oher an in-home visit during his recruitment, but all six got a crack at Oher in the movie.
"I was as amazed as anyone we were going to get them all in one place at the same time," Hancock said.
When the coaches weren't filming their scenes, they hung out in a bullpen of sorts the crew created. In the close confines, Tuberville and Orgeron reminisced about their days as Miami assistant coaches from 1989-92.
"We had a lot of down time, so we had a lot of time to sit around and talk," Tuberville said. "It was a good homecoming. You don't get to be around your fellow coaches in a relaxed atmosphere like that. It was a fun day."
The atmosphere on set was relaxed, too. After getting a few required lines on tape, Hancock let the coaches improvise their way through the recruiting pitch. Not everyone's recruiting prowess came through, though. After several takes Saban told Hancock, "I'm not cut out for this business." Though Hancock insists Saban will come off well in the movie, he concedes one coach separated himself from the pack. "Lou's enthusiasm is pretty amazing," Hancock said. "I might have been a Gamecock."
The film makers weren't the only ones who were impressed. All the coaches were taken aback by the scope of filming a major movie.
"The people on the set are so professional," Nutt said. "They are so organized. They do everything to the nth degree. It is just like coaching. I have a whole new respect."
In November, the players might gain a whole new respect for their coaches, too. Despite being less-than satisfied with his performance -- and intent on viewing the final product alone first -- Saban plans to take his Alabama team to the movie when it comes out. "I'm sure," Saban said, "they will be on me when we do."