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

LUBBOCK, Texas — Gary Gaines, coach of the Texas high school football team made famous by 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 stints in West Texas during his 30-year coaching career, but is best known for his four years at the helm of the highly successful Odessa Permian program. Gaines returned to Permian later in his career.

His 1988 team was documented in Buzz Bissinger’s best-selling book, which portrayed a program and school that favored football over academics and attributed racist comments to assistant coaches.

Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton in the 2004 film, 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-any-cost culture of a high school program in football-mad Texas, was also adapted into a television series.

Permian lost in the 1988 state semifinals, a season in which star running back James “Boobie” Miles was lost to a knee injury during a preseason practice session. Miles’ character played a prominent role in the film.

The book described scenes of “For Sale” signs posted 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 moved to Texas Tech to become an assistant coach.

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

“I just can’t find the words to pay my respects,” said retired coach Ron King, a former Permian assistant, the Odessa-American. “It’s a huge loss for the coaching profession. There are many coaches that he has taken under his wing and mentored.” Gary Gaines, coach made famous by ‘Friday Night Lights,’ dies at age 73

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