Gary Gaines, Texas Football Coach of 'Friday Night Lights' Fame, Dead at 73

The iconic coach, and his Odessa Permian Panthers, were chronicled in the 1990 book and 2004 movie starring Billy Bob Thornton

Odessa Permian head coach Gary Gaines walks off the practice field after a high school football workout in Odessa, Texas. Gaines, the 63-year-old at the center of the "Friday Night Lights" book and film, has left the school's sideline for the last time after announcing his resignation on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.
Photo: Kevin Buehler/AP Photo

Texas high school football coach Gary Gaines, whose team was chronicled in the book and movie Friday Night Lights, has died. He was 73.

Gaines's family said in a statement that he died in Lubbock, Texas after battling Alzheimer's disease, according to multiple outlets.

The legendary coach of Odessa Permian first rose to national prominence in Buzz Bissinger's 1990 book, which followed the team's quest for a state championship in 1988.

A movie starring Billy Bob Thornton as Gaines was released in 2004, and an NBC series with the same name, set in a fictionalized Texas town and cast with different characters, debuted in 2006.

Described as compassionate in the best-selling book, Gaines helmed the team in Odessa for two separate four-year stretches, first from 1986-89, with his Panthers going 47-6-1, according to NBC News. The team was undefeated in his final year, winning the state championship.

Gaines weathered a "win-at-all-costs" West Texas mentality even as, the book documented, "for sale" signs were routinely placed in front of his home.

Odessa Permian High School head football coach Gary Gaines watches a his players work out in Odessa, Texas. Gaines was the head coach of the 1988 Permian football team that was the focus of the H.G. Bissinger book "Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream" and the 2004 motion picture "Friday Night Lights."
Kevin Buehler/AP Photo

The coach went on to serve as an assistant at Texas Tech, then coach two Permian rivals in Abilene and San Angelo, before returning to the collegiate ranks as head coach at Abilene Christian University. In 2009, he returned to Permian for four years, per the news outlet.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. August Pfluger, whose 11th Congressional district includes Odessa, remembered the iconic coach.

"Coach Gary Gaines is nothing less than legendary. From playing quarterback at Angelo State University to coaching high school and college football in Denver City, San Angelo, Abilene, Amarillo, Petersburg, Lubbock, Fort Stockton, Monahans, and of course Odessa Permian, his footprints are all over West Texas. Coach Gaines' career was so much more than an occupation, it was a calling," Pfluger said in a statement.

Colleagues and other coaches also took the time to acknowledge Gaines's lasting impact.

"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."

Related Articles