[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for All American Season 5 Episode 11, “Time”]
In the episode, Coach Billy was commuting back home with his team when their bus blew a tire. The accident led to the bus careening to the edge of a cliff, but he and the players escaped the vehicle safely. At least, that’s what Billy thought. He went back onto the bus to look for Jamari (Simeon Daise), and then viewers learned of his death at the same time as his family later in the episode. It was a heroic end for an honorable character.
But why did Diggs want to leave the series? Showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll said it was a strictly narrative decision.
“I had a pretty good idea at the end of last season that that was where the season was going,” Carroll told Variety. Diggs was kept in the loop of her thought process, and as discussions about Billy’s legacy in the world of the show pressed on, this ending “just came together,” but she admitted that Diggs was “so emotional” at the time.
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“It became a mutual thing of, we have an opportunity to do something that no one is going to expect,” she said. “Does this feel like the right time to do it? We both felt like it was.”
Billy dying was the only exit that made sense for the character who was fiercely loyal to his family. Carroll said they were “so incredibly lucky to have Taye Diggs be part of this production from day one,” noting that they were never sure of “how long we would be able to hold on to him” as a cast member.
“I mean, he’s Taye Diggs,” Carroll recalled. “So we were like, let’s always make sure we’re communicating with each other, and when it feels like it’s the right time, if we’re both feeling that way, we’ll have the conversation and figure out a really dope way to have him exit the show.”
Carroll’s vision for Billy’s death was always this heroic moment, and Diggs was made aware of the plan a year before filming.
“Even though it was so far in advance, I already knew that whenever it would happen, that this was how I was going to do it,” she explained. “I pitched it to him like I was pitching an episode, beat by beat, even though it was still easily a year away. He was like, ‘It feels like the right time, and it feels like the right way to do it.’ It just felt right for both of us.”
Diggs told TVLine that he knew in his gut it was the right time to exit the series, adding that the cast and crew were all made aware of his impending departure as well.
“I was having a great time” on the show, he shared. “It was just a feeling that I got [that I was ready to leave], and I just honored that feeling.”
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“It was maybe mid-fourth season. I don’t even remember, to be honest, because the showrunner [Carroll] and myself are close,” he added. “We’d been keeping in contact, so she had known, and we’d been talking. And we decided how to go about it, and storylines and whatnot, so it was all above board, and everyone was in the know.”
Diggs and Carroll are confident that this was not an unnecessary TV death and that the easier choice would have been to have him leave his coaching job for a college coaching gig, as teased in the emotional episode. But Billy would never leave his family behind, so a new job wasn’t in the cards.
“The easiest choice would have been for me to teach at some college,” Diggs explained, “but then given the intensity of the relationships between me and my family, and me and the team, it would not make sense if I was still alive and wasn’t still in contact with these children of mine — these students, these young men that had such an influence on my life. When I was told how I was exiting, I was impressed. [Laughs] No characters I’ve played have ever been dealt with in that fashion. I was honored.”
All American, Mondays, 8/7c, The CW