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The Real Reason Coach Left New Girl

Over the course of seven full seasons and a whopping 146 episodes, Fox's winking, 30-something farce New Girl was frequently the most overlooked comedy on television. As the series continued to score renewals from Fox, we'd wager New Girl was also one of those shows that topped many a TV lover's "guilty pleasure-but-must watch" viewing list. As is the case with most long-running sitcoms, New Girl's quality saw significant ups and downs over the years, but the show still almost always managed to remain better than average — and occasionally, New Girl was flat-out hilarious in ways many small screen comedies couldn't even dream of.

That had a lot to do with the fact that New Girl managed to keep its insanely talented core cast (Zooey DeschanelJake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone, and Lamorne Morris) in the fold for the entirety of the show's run. They also managed to surround that core with a wave of notable supporting players that only bolstered the hilarity, and overall quality, of the series even at its low points. Of course, New Girl fans who followed the series from day one were likely quick to notice that one of those late-game supporting players was actually a member of the series' original core cast.

The character in question is the one and only Coach. As played by Damon Wayans, Jr., the character was indeed among the O.G. loft-mates on New Girl's pilot episode back in 2011, but was mysteriously replaced by Lamorne Morris' Winston ahead of the show's official premiere on Fox. Wayans' surprise disappearance left many a Coach fan pondering not only why the character didn't return for the series premiere, but why the character was not recast, and instead simply replaced. Luckily, that question has finally been answered. Here's the real reason Coach left New Girl

Damon Wayans Jr. had to leave New Girl over a commitment to another series

To be clear, it's far from uncommon for characters to be written off their shows between a series' pilot episode and a show's official network premiere. There are many reasons this can happen: a character might not test well, a show might be retooled en route to getting greenlit for series, or an actor may simply choose not to commit to the project past the pilot phase. Turns out, none of those common reasons are why Damon Wayans, Jr. didn't continue his run as Coach when New Girl went to air. 

Turns out that the real reason Coach left New Girl is because Wayans was very much in demand at the time. In fact, he'd already spent a full season on ABC's sitcom Happy Endings. As it happens, that series spent its inaugural season largely trying to find its footing, and was not expected to receive a second season order. Assuming he had some free time ahead, Wayans quickly lined up his gig on New Girl, and proceeded to shoot the pilot episode. While New Girl was indeed a hit, ABC — to the surprise of many — also ended up greenlighting Happy Endings for a new seasonSeems they also had their cast under contract, so Wayans was obligated to forge ahead on that series instead.

If you're wondering why New Girl creator Elizabeth Merriweather opted not to recast the role on the pilot and proceed with a new Coach, it's because the character featured quite heavily on that pilot — so much so that recasting or simply removing Coach altogether would've required extensive reshoots that the studio was unlikely to pay for. Thus, Merriweather decided instead to just bring in a fresh face for series' premiere. 

Coach actually left New Girl twice

We'd offer that the change ultimately worked out for the best, as Lamorne Morris' Winston was just the awkwardly endearing sort of character that New Girl needed to fire on all of its endlessly quirk-fueled cylinders. But if you're starting to feel bad for Wayans— don't, because Happy Endings ended up running for three full seasons on ABC, and he was usually the best thing on it.

In an oddly fortuitous turn of events, Wayans actually got to reprise his role as Coach on New Girl after Happy Endings got the axe for good. This occurred in 2013, when Merriweather and the New Girl creative team jumped at the chance to throw Coach into the show's season 3 mix. Wayans would go on to feature regularly as a "special guest star" on New Girl's third season. Coach was so well-liked in his return that Wayans Jr. even got bumped up to series regular on season 4.

Though Wayans' second run on New Girl lasted considerably longer than his first, the actor remained very much in demand in Hollywood. Not surprisingly, other opportunities again led him to exit the series at the end of its fourth season. In spite of Coach's second exit from New Girl, it seems Wayans Jr. just couldn't quit the show for good. The actor actually returned for a two-episode arc on season 5, and turned up once again for a memorable one-off appearance on New Girl's seventh and final season. All told, Coach appeared on 44 episodes of New Girl, including that pilot — which is impressive for a character that almost didn't make the cut at all.