Legendary coaching inspiration for Friday Night Lights resigns

Cameron Smith
December 20, 2012

The Friday Night Lights era is officially over.

After eight years and two different spells leading the nation’s most famous high school football program, Gary Gaines is stepping away from the coaching sidelines, at least for the moment. Gaines, who is most famous for his role as head coach at Odessa (Texas) Permian High, announced that he would not return to lead the program in 2013, officially ending his second spell at the West Texas school.

Legendary football coach Gary Gaines will not return for the 2013 season — AP
Legendary football coach Gary Gaines will not return for the 2013 season — AP

“We’re going to give it to someone else and, hopefully, they can make more out of it than we did,” Gaines told the Associated Press. “We came here to make some deep playoff runs and we weren’t able to do that. That’s what [Permian fans] expect, and I expect as well.”

Gaines is remembered most fondly for his first stint at Permian, between 1986-1989, when he led the team to a state title and was the inspiration for Buzz Bissinger’s classic book Friday Night Lights, which later became a movie and TV series of the same name.

In 2009 Gaines returned to Permian with the explicit goal of recapturing the Panthers’ past glory. Gaines’ second stint was significantly less successful than his first, with the coach finishing 23-21, including a single playoff victory.

Gaines' return coincided with the rapidly rising popularity of the "Friday Night Lights" TV show, which piggybacked on the similarly successful movie released in 2004. Gaines spent the intervening years between his roles as Permian coach as both a collegiate football coordinator and then as a high school athletic director in Odessa and Lubbock.

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The results from Gaines' second run weren't considered good enough for a program with the historical stature and cache of Permian, with fans in the town expecting playoff returns every year.

Still, those with the deepest ties to the school were quick to express a sense of loss in Gaines’ departure.

“Anytime anyone the quality of coach Gaines leaves, it leaves a vacuum,” Ector school district athletic director Todd Veseley told the AP.

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