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Gary Gaines, Texas high school football coach depicted in ‘Friday Night Lights,’ dead at 73

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Gary Gaines, who was the head coach of the Texas high school football team depicted in the book and movie “Fright Night Lights,” died Monday, his family said. He was 73.

Gaines’ family said the longtime football coach died in Lubbock after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

While he coached for three decades in West Texas, Gaines is most known for his four-year stint at the helm of Odessa Permian. The 1988 season, in which he led Permian to the state finals despite the loss of James “Boobie” Miles but came up short, was the focus on the book and film.

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Actor Billy Bob Thornton portrayed Gaines in the film.

“Following a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, it is with great sadness that the family of Coach Gary Gaines announces his peaceful passing this afternoon. Memorial plans will be announced in the coming days. Thank you for remembering our family in your thoughts and prayers,” his family said in a statement.

Gaines also coached Abilene Christian University for a few seasons. The school paid its respects to Gaines on Twitter.

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Head coach Gary Gaines watches his high school football players work out in Odessa, Texas, May 21, 2009.
(AP Photo/Kevin Buehler, File)

“The ACU football community is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Texas coaching legend Gary Gaines, who spent five years at the helm of the Wildcat program. We are sending our condolences to the Gaines family,” the team wrote.

Gaines led Permian to a perfect season in 1989 and then left to be an assistant at Texas Tech. He later coached Abilene High and San Angelo Central before making his return to college with Abilene Christian. He would also serve a second stint at Permian in 2009.

“I just can’t find the words to pay respects,” Ron King, a former assistant under Gaines at Permian, 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.”

Coach Gary Gaines walks off the practice field after a workout in Odessa, Texas, May 21, 2009.

Coach Gary Gaines walks off the practice field after a workout in Odessa, Texas, May 21, 2009.
(AP Photo/Kevin Buehler, File)

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Gaines is survived by his wife Sharon and children Bradley and Nicole.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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