‘Friday Night Lights’ Coach is Back in The Saddle

Because Buzz Bissinger and I are Twitter pals,* I have learned that Gary Gaines, who was made famous through Bissinger’s novel “Friday Night Lights,” is returning to be the head football coach at Odessa-Permian High in Texas after 19 seasons.

Gary Gaines

Gaines, the coach at the center of Bissinger’s book who is also depicted in the NBC TV series, left Odessa for college coaching following Odessa’s state title victory in 1989. With Odessa looking for a new coach for the upcoming season, the school board voted to rehire Gaines as a consultant to help in the search. Then, Dick Cheney-like, he decided to take the job himself.

(* = May not be Twitter pals).

Made into a movie in 2004 and now an NBC television series that’s less about football than the community depicted, the book was a hit everywhere but Odessa. Locals felt Bissinger betrayed their hospitality by writing about the sociological woes surrounding the team and town, including allegations of racism and a win-at-all-costs mentality.

After leading the Panthers to that state title 20 years ago, Gaines left Permian to become linebackers coach at Texas Tech. He left coaching in 2005 after five years at Abilene Christian to return to Odessa as the school district’s athletic director. Two years later, he moved north to take a similar post in Lubbock.

Concerning the book, Gaines says he regrets giving Bissinger access to the team.

Gaines still maintains he’s never read the book that vaulted his team and town into the spotlight, though he acknowledged “probably” having softened to the hurt he initially felt to the point that he “thumbed through it at the book store one time.”

High praise indeed. Glass houses and all of that, Buzz.

Friday Night Lights

Anyway, Odessa-Permian has fallen on hard times in the standings in recent years (losing 49 games between 1997 and 2006, including a six-game losing streak in 2004), and Gaines is charged with turning their fortunes. As people like Joe Gibbs can tell you, that’s rarely a good idea; you should always go out on a high note. Gaines’ motivations for getting back into it are undoubtedly more pure, however.