It's been 15 years since we first met Coach Terry Tugnut on "Even Stevens." Since then, we've watched him rollerblade in school hallways, channel Igor on the Halloween episode, sing about being the "Master of the Gym" and watching a huge glob of spaghetti fall on top of his head.
In order to learn more about one of the best Disney Channel shows ever, MTV hopped on the phone with Jim Wise, who played Lawrence Jr. High's very own Coach Tugnut. During our conversation, we learned some fun and interesting behind-the-scenes facts about the show.
Wise actually wrote most of the music for the iconic episode "Influenza: The Musical."
"I had written a lot of music and they knew that, and so the writers, Marc Warren and Dennis Rinsler were running the show at that time and then there was Tom Burkhard and Suzie Villandry [Freeman], [and] her writing partner Sarah Cunningham. They all had ideas of where the script would go and then there'd be a song here and the song would be about "x". And so we had a meeting and I took it from there.
...I wrote, say, 90% and then as the episode was developing, they added more songs so I think Marc Warren wrote "There Will Be No Award" based on [the song "We Went to the Moon in 1969"]."
Oh, and Wise had to use ~old school~ equipment to create the songs.
"I wrote the songs on a multitrack player. I didn't have a computer or software program that people have now...there used to be these things where you'd put a cassette in...and it would break it into four track and so you could multitrack that way. I wrote the songs, wrote the lyrics out, and I played guitar and then I sang against them. And then I got these tracks to the composer, John Coda, and he produced the more sophisticated track that you would hear on TV, on the show."
When Nelson Minkler (Gary LeRoi Gray) sings "What's the Matter with Ren?" on the musical episode, that's not really him singing. It's actually Wise.
"He couldn't sing at all so I had to sing so his voice, the voice coming out of him, is me how I figured he would sound if he were able to sing."
Also, Larry Beale (Ty Hodges) wasn't originally supposed to be rapping in "What's the Matter with Ren?"
"I didn't have Larry Beale rapping because I thought it was kind of racist. Like, 'Oh here's the one black guy on the show, he's going to rap.' I remember them saying, 'Maybe Larry could do the rap here.' I was like, 'Really? Can't he just sing a verse? I'll write a cool bridge.' [They said], 'It'd be fun if he rapped.' The producers and also Disney Channel had their formulas, sometimes you got to just go along with it."
Wise's favorite song he wrote was none other than "Sixth Period."
"I kind of like the way 'Sixth Period' made out. I liked the weight, heavy-handed seriousness, just how everybody has a line here and a line there, it was such an ensemble thing. And I think even at the end, they kind of checkerboard out the screen so you see everyone's face at once in their own place.
...That was a fun one to write because it was kind of out of my wheelhouse too because I had written a lot of pop-kinda stuff...[but] this was kind of serious. More tense than anything else...just because it was different from what I'd done."
Coach Tugnut was inspired by someone from Wise's past.
"He was like the Dean of Men at my high school. I went to a Jesuit, all boys high school here in Los Angeles called Loyola High. And the Dean of Men was super serious and stern, but really actually a cool guy. But, I would play him when I was a senior whenever there was some event, I would pretend to be him. So it was Dean Hern and I would play this kind of a clown. And it evolved out of that. Not that it's that complex of a character, but it's just fun playing a jackass."
And he had a different personality in the very beginning of the series, versus later episodes.
"If you watch the pilot, the Tugnut character isn't as much of a goof that he ended up being. That did evolve. In the pilot, I'm just up there saying, 'You're Donnie Steven's brother?' It wasn't much of a character at all. And they didn't even make it a recurring character until the second season, and that's when I had more fun with it."
Because the kids on the show were growing so fast, Disney tried to cram in as many episodes as possible in a short amount of time.
"There were three seasons and they were done within a span of two years because on the kids shows, or the Disney Channel shows, they can't grow so fast so they have to squeeze as many episodes out of them as they can while they're small, smaller than the adults.
...Now I'm short. I'm 5' 8". So when you watch 'Master of the Gym,' when Shia [LaBeouf] and A.J. [Trauth] are sitting next to me, they're just about as tall as I am. So Disney Channel tried to cram in as many they can and I think the golden number is 66 episodes. And then they can do stuff with it overseas."
Wise kept some of Tugnut's iconic hats after the show.
"I do [have some of the hats], well I think I do. Somewhere in the house, there's the orange hat. They wanted me to have a lousy car and so they had an orange Ford Pinto and so they put me in that hat because it was the same color as the car."
Coach Tugnut may be an awful dancer, but Wise himself isn't.
"I'm actually an excellent dancer, nobody knows that about me...I mean, I wouldn't say I'm an excellent dancer, but I'm fine socially dancing. I would never do what I was doing on that show at a party or anything like that. Also, I was a musical theater major out of high school and I had to learn all that stuff and I got good at it, but ballet is the hardest thing in the world, especially if you're built like I am."
There were definitely double entendres and dirty jokes on the show.
"'Thomas Gribalski' was another testicle joke and Tugnut, let's be honest...[and] the Disney Channel executives loved that stuff."
There was a rather dirty moment on "A Very Scary Story."
"In the Halloween episode, George [Anthony Bell], the Principal Wexler...had one line where he said, 'Tugnut, the juice!' And I just remember our executive from Disney Channel, this guy Adam...and he laughed so hard every time George said, 'Tugnut, the juice,'...and then I'd throw a lever or something like that, and I just remember Adam thinking that was hysterical."
In "The Even Stevens Movie," Wise almost passed out from the amount of spaghetti thrown on his head.
"I'm standing on that chair and there's a scaffold next to me and on top of that scaffold were two crew guys with big bins of spaghetti. A lot. And it was a direct hit. And it was cooked obviously, but it was so heavy that I literally thought I was going to black out from the blow.
...It was in a tub a busboy would use to collect dishes filled with spaghetti, two of them. And so they dumped it on me and I literally was seeing stars from the hit. They cut to the pigeons on me...It was compression from the top of my head down to my neck. But yeah, the spaghetti, definitely got hit with spaghetti."
Coach Tugnut is probably still coaching today.
"I think he loved being a coach so much that he's probably looking for his next Donnie. Next guy to hang his hat on."
Thank you, Jim. You're the sole reason '90s kids know when we went to the moon.