ODESSA, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) – Many remember former Permian head coach Gary Gaines through the popular book and movie ‘Friday Night Lights’ based off his 1989 state championship with the undefeated Panthers taking district 5-A by storm.
But for those who knew him off the field, he was much more than just a successful coach.
“I think you only know what you know. So, I mean, everybody’s dad was their superstar or their highlight of their life, my dad was just the football coach that was our world,” said heart broken Bradley Gaines.
Bradley remembers his dad after his passing.
The man who was not just any football coach, he’s the man who inspired the famous book and movie, ‘Friday Night Lights’.
He touched the hearts and minds of many throughout the country, but to his closest loved ones, he was already famous and had become a legend in the community he built around him.
His wife, Sharon, is proud of her late husband’s accomplishments, and the man he became and how he affected those all around him.
She said, “Just to see him grow as a person and as a coach was exciting. And just to see him and the respect that people had for him, that made me so proud.”
And she said, even though they were together for more than 50 years, it still wasn’t enough time.
“It felt very short. When it got to be, you know, three or four years ago, and I knew that he would be here for a very long period of time. When I tell people 52 years, I always say I just wanted 52 more,” smiled Sharon.
Coach Gaines passed away in September at the age of 73-year-old after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. His family said it was a really tough time, for everyone.
Bradley added, “It’s just a mean disease. You’re never prepared.”
And Sharon mentioned, “[It was] a journey.” And while his disease affected his memory, he never forgot the ones he truly loved, “He always knew me, and that was such a blessing. He always knew me,” said Sharon.
While it was hard, they wanted the fight to always continue, so as not to loose someone they truly cared for. “It’s hard because you want him to be healed, but you don’t want to let him go, so that was a difficult thing.”
And in the mind of Coach Gaines, the fight was never over and his coaching heart always remained.
“When he was able to walk around, he was still coaching. People would be in wheelchairs, or they’d be walking down the hall and he’d be walking by and saying, ‘you’re doing a good job. You know it’s going to be okay,'” laughed Sharon. “I loved that because it just showed you how deep his love for people and his taking care of them.”
Coach Gaines was so successful on the field, many schools wanted him to be their coach and so his career took him to many places.
The family moved 17 times for him to take over the football teams at new schools and while they said that was tough to move that many times, they cherish all of his successes.
“Sometimes it was difficult for our kids to move so much. And I always cried. He would always say, ‘she cried the last time. She always cried.’ But then it was it was very fun because we were meeting so many people all over West Texas and we met some really great people, coaches and families,” added Sharon.
And while he was successful on the field, when he did lose, which was rare, he said his family made it all better, especially his grandchildren.
Sharon spoke about her favorite moments she had with Gary, “He wasn’t a really good loser, most coaches aren’t, but our oldest granddaughter, who’s about 26, fixing to be 26. One time we had lost, we were in San Angelo Central and one of the coaches said, ‘take that baby in there and see if that’ll brighten his face up.’ And we handed her to him and he just he was beaming, and he forgot all about the loss,” she laughed.
Coach Gaines worked with many young athletes throughout his career and to this day, many of them stayed in the Gaines’ lives and many came to his celebration of life in Odessa. His family said that shows how loved her truly was.
“It made my heart, well up. You know, because of how loved, he is. And how everybody was so sweet to take the time to come and celebrate him,” said a grateful Sharon.
“He was a great dad. He was a great role model. He was a great leader in our lives,” said a choked up Bradley. “I don’t know how many people I’ve run into the last three or four years to just tell me a story. It’s just like it doesn’t have to do anything with football. It just talks about his heart and his giving and caring. And I think that’s what drives me to be even better. Is just like that love and passion and caring for other people.”
Since his passing, his family founded the Gary Gaines Alzheimer’s Foundation, helping those in West Texas battling the disease- more specifically helping with the financial toll the disease can take on families.
Bradley emphasized how hard it is to go through a time like this, “We saw that through and through time and time with different people that were in facilities that would, just be burdened financially. So, it’s education, it’s financial, there’s a lot of different reasons we wanted to start the foundation in dad’s name.”
Bradley said he couldn’t have imagined a better person in his life and said it was the best thing that the last game he went to with his father, was a MOJO game.
“We actually went before he went, and we went to a Permian game in Lubbock and watched Permian play. And just that last probably game with him was cool,” said an emotional Bradley.
Now, they just hope he knows how much he was loved and how much he is loved.
“Just thank him for, thank him for being who he was and for the influence that he had on everybody, but especially our family. And just we love him, and we miss him,” cried Sharon.
To learn more about the Gary Gaines Alzheimer’s Foundation you can email this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. They are located on 4901 South Loop 289 PO BOX 64366 Lubbock, TX 79424.