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Gary Gaines, ‘Friday Night Lights’ trainer, dies at 73

Gary Gaines, 'Friday Night Lights' trainer, dies at 73
Odessa Permian coach Gary Gaines in training in 2009.

Lubbock, Texas – Gary Gaines, the coach of the Texas high school soccer team, who was best known for the book and movie “Friday Night Lights,” has died. He was 73 years old.

The Gaines family said in a statement that the former coach died Monday in Lubbock after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Gaines has stopped several times in West Texas during his 30-year training career, but is best known for a four-year stint leading the highly successful program at the Odessa Permian. Gaines returned to the Permian later in his career.

Odessa Permian coach Gary Gaines in training in 2009.
Odessa Permian coach Gary Gaines in training in 2009.

His team was chronicled in 1988 in Buzz Bissinger’s bestselling book, which depicted a program and school that favored football over academics and attributed racial comments to assistant coaches.

“I can’t find the words to offer my respect,” said Ron King, the former Permian aide, He told the American Odessa. “It is a huge loss for the coaching profession. There are a lot of coaches that he has taken under his care and mentored.”

Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton in the 2004 film, said he had never read the book and felt betrayed by Besinger after the author spent the entire 1988 season with the team.

The book, which portrayed Gaines as a compassionate coach trapped in the win-at-all-costs culture of a soccer-obsessed Texas high school program, was also made into a TV series.

The Permian lost in the state semifinals in 1988, a season that included losing star James “Bobby” Miles to a knee injury during a pre-season brawl. Miles’ character played a prominent role in the film.

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The book described the scenes of the “For Sale” signs placed in the front yard of Gaines’ home. His record from 1986-89 was 47-6-1.

Gaines led the Permian to fifth of the program’s six state championships with a perfect season in 1989, then left to become an assistant coach at Texas Tech.

Billy Bob Thornton Gaines portrayed in the movie.
Billy Bob Thornton Gaines portrayed in the movie.
Ralph Nelson

He later coached two Permian competitors, Abilene High and San Angelo Central, before returning to college as a coach at Abilene Christian. Starting another four-year career as a Permian coach in 2009, Gaines was also the athletic director of the school district in Odessa and Lubbock.