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Gary Gaines dead at 73: Texas football coach was portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton in 'Friday Night Lights' movie

Gaines was best known for a four-year brief tenure leading the highly successful program at Odessa Permian
UPDATED AUG 23, 2022
Famed Texas high school football coach Gary Gaines dies at the age of 73 on Monday, August 22. (Sharon Gaines/Facebook)
Famed Texas high school football coach Gary Gaines dies at the age of 73 on Monday, August 22. (Sharon Gaines/Facebook)

LUBBOCK, TEXAS: Gary Gaines, the coach of a Texas high school football team, who rose to prominence after appearing in film 'Friday Night Lights', died at the age of 73. Gaines' family said in a statement that the former coach died Monday, August 22, in Lubbock after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.

During his 30-year coaching career, Gaines made many breaks in West Texas, but he was best known for a four-year brief tenure leading the highly successful program at Odessa Permian, where he later returned after coaching some college teams. Buzz Bissinger's bestselling book about Odessa's 1988 team depicted a program and school that prioritized football over academics and attributed racist comments to assistant coaches.


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Gaines, who was portrayed in the 2004 film 'Friday Night Lights' by Billy Bob Thornton, 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 up in the win-at-all-costs culture of a high school football program in football-crazed Texas, was also adapted into a television series.

In 1988, Odessa Permian lost in the state semifinals after star running back James 'Boobie' Miles suffered a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage. Miles' character played an important role in the film. Following the loss, the book depicted scenes of ''for sale'' signs being placed in Gaines' front yard, Associated Press reported. 

Gary Gaines with wife Sharon Gaines (Sharon Gaines/Facebook)
Gary Gaines with wife Sharon Gaines (Sharon Gaines/Facebook)

Gaines led Odessa Permian to the fifth of the program's six state championships with a perfect season one year after the book and movie were published. He then left to work as an assistant coach at Texas Tech before taking over as head coach of two Permian rivals, Abilene High and San Angelo Central. He then returned to college football as the head coach at Abilene Christian for five years.

Gaines then went on to coach Permian for another four years, beginning in 2009. From 1986 to 1989, he had a 47-6-1 record. Gaines also worked as an athletic director for school districts in Odessa and Lubbock. Gaines was inducted into the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor in July 2013 for his contributions.

''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.'' Many other celebrities from the sports industry paid their tribute to Gaines. 

The Abilene Christian football team tweeted, "The ACU football community is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Texas coaching legend Gary Gaines, who spent five years at the helm of the Wildcat program. We are sending our condolences to the Gaines family."


Sonnie Cumbie, the head coach at Louisiana Tech wrote, "Coach Gaines- a coaching legend not only by his record and titles, but by how he made everyone feel valued and loved. Grateful that our paths crossed as many times as they did. Thoughts and prayers for his family."


Damon Sayles, the NBA editor for the Athletic, tweeted, "Permian has taken a couple of gut punches. I wasn't coached by Gary Gaines, but he's a legend in and throughout West Texas." "I was there when Buddy Hale was an administrator. He was always good to me, especially when I was the new move-in as a junior. Geez. RIP to both."


Odessa Permian Panthers wrote, "RIP Coach Gary Gaines. We lost a great coach and a better man."


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