Gary Gaines, the head coach of the Texas high school football team, who was made famous in “Friday Night Lights” book and movie, has passed away. He was 73.
In a statement, Gaines’ family said the former coach passed away on Monday in Lubbock after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Gary Gaines had a 30-year coaching career that included numerous stops in West Texas, but his four-year tenure as the head coach of Odessa Permian’s phenomenally successful team is what made him most famous. Later in his career, Gaines went back to the Permian.
Buzz Bissinger’s best-selling book, which followed his 1988 squad, painted a picture of a program and institution that prioritized football over academics and attributed racist comments to assistant coaches.
Gary Gaines claimed he never read the book and felt deceived by Bissinger after the author spent the entire 1988 season with the squad. Gaines was portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton in the 2004 film.
The book, which portrays Gary Gaines as a sympathetic coach caught in a high school program’s win-at-all-costs mentality in football-crazy Texas, was also made into a TV series.
During the 1988 season, when Permian lost in the state playoffs, a standout running back James “Boobie” Miles suffered a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage. The movie featured a lot of Miles’ characters.
The book included images of Gaines’ house’s front yard being marked with “for sale” signs. From 1986 through 1989, he had a 47-6-1 record. Gaines departed Permian after guiding them to the fifth of their six state titles in 1989 and went on to work as an assistant coach at Texas Tech.
Later, he served as the coach at Abilene Christian before coaching two of Permian’s rivals, Abilene High and San Angelo Central. Gaines began a second four-year coaching tenure with Permian in 2009. He previously served as the athletic director for school districts in Odessa and Lubbock.
“I just can’t find the words to pay respects,” retired coach Ron King, a former Permian assistant, told the Odessa American. “It’s a big loss for the coaching profession. There are a lot of coaches he took under his wing and mentored.”