Gary Gaines, coach made famous by 'Friday Night Lights,' dies at age 73

ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Coach made famous by 'Friday Night Lights' dies at age 73
Coach Gary Gaines family said in a statement that he died after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Gary Gaines, coach of the Texas high school football team made famous in the book and movie "Friday Night Lights," has died. He was 73.

Gaines' family said in a statement that the former coach died Monday in Lubbock after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Gaines made many stops in West Texas during a 30-year coaching career but was best known for a four-year stint leading the highly successful program at Odessa Permian. Gaines returned to Permian later in his career.

His 1988 team was chronicled in Buzz Bissinger's bestselling book, which portrayed a program and school that favored football over academics and attributed racist comments to assistant coaches.

Gaines, who was played by Billy Bob Thornton in the 2004 movie, said he never read the book and felt betrayed by Bissinger after the author spent the entire 1988 season with the team.

The book, which portrayed Gaines as a compassionate coach caught in the win-at-all-costs culture of a high school program in football-crazed Texas, also was turned into a TV series.

Permian lost in the state semifinals in 1988, a season that included the loss of star running back James "Boobie" Miles to a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage. Miles' character played a prominent role in the movie.

The book described scenes of "for sale" signs being placed in the front yard of Gaines' home. His record from 1986 to 1989 was 47-6-1.

Gaines led Permian to the fifth of the program's six state championships with a perfect season in 1989, then left to become an assistant coach at Texas Tech.

He later coached two of Permian's rivals, Abilene High and San Angelo Central, before returning to college as the coach at Abilene Christian. Another four-year run as Permian's coach started in 2009, and Gaines also was a school district athletic director 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."