Gary Gaines, the Texas high school football coach featured in Buzz Bissinger’s 1990 nonfiction book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream and portrayed in the 2004 film version by Billy Bob Thornton, died Monday in Lubbock, Texas, of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 73.
His death was announced by his family to the Associated Press.
Bissinger spent the 1988 football season with the Odessa Permian High School team to chronicle the phenomenon of Texas football culture. The book was a warts-and-all account of the season, depicting racism, educational inequalities and what would come to be known as toxic masculinity. Gaines, though being depicted as the book’s hero, later disavowed it, saying he felt betrayed by Bissinger’s depiction of Texans as racist.
The bestseller was made into the 2004 movie Friday Night Lights starring Thornton as Gaines. NBC’s 2006-2011 TV series of the same name was a more loosely-based fictionalized account, with the Gaines character renamed Eric Taylor and portrayed by Kyle Chandler.
Although Gaines is best known for his four years at Odessa Permian, his coaching career actually spanned 30 years and included various stints with other high schools and colleges in the state. He retired from coaching in 2012, and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017.
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