Gary Gaines, famed ‘Friday Night Lights’ coach, dead at 73

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

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.

Buzz Bissinger’s 1990 book, which documented the team’s quest for a state championship in 1988, catapulted the renowned coach of Odessa Permian to national notoriety.

In 2004, a film featuring Billy Bob Thornton as Gaines was released, and in 2006, an NBC series with the same name began, set in a fictionalized Texas town and starring other people.

Gaines, who was described as empathetic in the best-selling book, led the club in Odessa for two different four-year spells, the first from 1986 to 1989, when his Panthers went 47-6-1, according to NBC News. In his final year, the squad went undefeated and won 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."

After working as an assistant at Texas Tech, the coach went on to coach two Permian rivals, Abilene and San Angelo, before returning to the collegiate levels as head coach at Abilene Christian University. According to the news agency, he returned to Permian in 2009 for four years.

U.S. Rep. August Pfluger, whose 11th Congressional District includes Odessa, paid tribute to the renowned coach on Tuesday.

“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 recognize Gaines’ long-lasting influence.

“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.”