Gary Gaines, Texas High School Football Coach Featured in ‘Friday Night Lights,’ Dies at Age 73

by Bryan Fyalkowski

Former Odessa Permian High School head football coach Gary Gaines passed away at the age of 73 following a long battle with Alzheimer’s. He was the featured character in Buzz Bissinger’s bestselling book, “Friday Night Lights,” and was portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton in the 2004 feature film.

Gaines was a longtime fixture in Texas football. He served as a high school and collegiate coach in the state for 30 years. But he was most known for his stint at Odessa Permian from 1986-89. Bissinger followed the 1988 Panthers team for his book, a year in which the squad lost in the 5A semifinals.

The next year, Gaines led the school to a perfect 16-0 season and a fifth state title. Then he left to become an assistant coach at Texas Tech.

After four seasons with the Red Raiders, he returned to high school football until 2000, when he was named head coach for Abilene Christian University.

Gaines compiled a 21-30 overall record with the Wildcats, then returned to Odessa Permian for another four-year stint from 2009-2012. After his coaching career came to a close, he became a school district athletic director in Lubbock, Texas, where he spent his final years.

Colleagues Eulogize Late High School Football Coach Gary Gaines

In the local Odessa American, many former colleagues shared their memories of Gary Gaines. Most notably, former Odessa Permian coach Ron King had some great things to say.

“He taught me what I needed to be successful as a coach, how to coach kids and how to talk to kids to teach them to believe in themselves,” King said. “I’ve had two men that were father figures to me and Coach Gaines was one of them.”

He continued: “I just can’t find the words to pay respects. It’s a big loss for the coaching profession. There are a lot of coaches he took under his wing and mentored … For a lot of young coaches; he was a difference maker. Like when you are coaching kids, you are trying to make a difference. I think Coach Gaines did that.”