Sad news out of Permian for the second time this week. Legendary Permian football coach Gary Gaines, who was immortalized in ‘Friday Night Lights,” has died. He was 73 and led the Panthers to several state titles. Permian has taken a couple of gut punches. I wasn’t coached by Gary Gaines, but he’s a legend in and throughout West Texas. I was there when Buddy Hale was an administrator. He was always good to me, especially when I was the new move-in as a junior.
Gaines achieved his greatest notoriety during his days at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. From 1979 to 1981, he served as an assistant coach under head coach John Wilkins for three years. With Gaines on board, the Permian won the 1980 Texas 5A state championship.
After Wilkins retired for the 1985 season, Gaines returned to the Permian as head coach, in charge of a team that won back-to-back 5A state championship games. (The Permian and Beaumont French High Schools were declared co-champions in 1984 after a 21-21 tie [Texas high school football had no overtime at the time] and lost to Houston Yates in 1985).
Gaines was the protagonist of H.G. Bissinger’s 1990 book “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” which chronicled the 1988 Permian season and the culture of football fanaticism in West Texas. The following season, Gaines led the Permian to a perfect 16-0 season and a 1989 5A state championship. Gaines left the Permian after the 1989 season with a 46-7-1 record.
On March 9, 2009, the Permian announced that Gaines would return as the Permian’s head coach following Darren Allman’s departure from Austin Westlake. Gaines has been away from the Permian for 20 years and 10 years after he coached high school football. The Panthers failed to replicate Gaines’ success in the 1980s, going 23-21 in four seasons with just one playoff victory. At the end of the 2012 season, Gaines stepped down as head coach and announced his retirement. Over a total of eight seasons in the Permian, Gaines posted a 69-28-1 record and a 127-93-5 overall record in 20 seasons as head coach.