Permian community in mourning following deaths of Gary Gaines and Buddy Hale
The Permian Panthers community is grieving the deaths of two beloved members: Gary Gaines, the legendary coach who helped inspire the famed book and film Friday Night Lights, and longtime Permian High administrator and devout Panthers fan Buddy Hale.
Coach Gaines died at age 73 Monday afternoon following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, his family said in a statement, according to CBS7. Hale reportedly passed away Saturday at age 70 following a battle with cancer.
News of Gaines’ passing quickly spread nationally, but online tributes to both his legacy and also that of Hale’s proved the depths of the impact both of these legendary mentors had locally.
Following Gaines’ passing, students, coaches, teachers, fans and members of the media flooded social media with posts honoring not just the coach, but also the man. J.R. Castilleja called Gaines “a great man and the best coach I ever had.” Former student Kalie Bartholomae recalled how Gaines “would call me into his office senior year just to talk to me and ask about my future, and give me advice for everything under the sun.”
Mickey Foydell Mitchell, who served on Coach Gaines’ staff at Monahans High, said there “wasn’t a sweeter, more caring or loving friend.”
“He inspired us daily with his character, his work ethic, and his love for kids, whether they were student-athletes or not,” Mitchell said.
That impact spanned over three decades throughout Texas. Gaines coached at multiple high schools and two colleges. He served as assistant coach at Permian High from 1979-1981, and then as the team’s head coach from 1986-1989. The Panthers under Gaines won the state championship following a perfect 16-0 season in 1989. The program gained national fame over its portrayal in H.G. Bissinger’s book Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, which chronicled the 1988 season. The book was adapted into a 2004 film starring Billy Bob Thornton.
Gaines spent time as linebackers coach at Texas Tech. He also coached high school football at Fort Stockton, Monahans, Petersburg, Denver City, Amarillo Tascosa, Abilene and San Angelo Central.
“Long before Friday Night Lights fame, Coach Gaines transformed Monahans Football into a West Texas powerhouse,” the program stated on Twitter.
Gaines, who also served in athletic director roles, would return to coach the Panthers from 2009-2012 before retiring as coach.
According to his family’s statement, memorial plans will be announced in the coming days.
Coach Gaines’ death came just a few days after the announcement of the passing of Buddy Hale, known affectionately as Mr. Mojo. Hale was another inspirational figure at Permian High whose death elicited an outpouring of tributes in the community. He died over the weekend after a battle with cancer at age 70, according to CBS7. Following his passing, Permian High Head Football Coach Jeff Ellison said the Panthers will dedicate the season to Hale.
In a video statement posted by CBS7’s Jakob Brandenburg, Ellison said Hale is “everything about Permian, everything about Mojo.”
“It’s his passion for everything, all of the sports, band, choir, the kids, just the school,” Ellison said. “We were fortunate a few weeks ago to talk with Buddy, and he donated his state rings to the program, he wanted [them] to stay here.”
Former student Desmond Brooks said Hale “loved Permian more than anybody I ever met” and recounted how Hale would “show me all the hats he had from players who played at Permian before.”
“And he would say, ‘You know your Uncle Sam gave me this Arkansas hat when he signed to play football,'” Brooks said. “This happened at least 10 times lol.”
Added Jeremy Hicks, “He changed lots of peoples lives in someway or another, including mine.”
Another former student, Joseph Rodriguez, described Hale as “always in high spirits.” Rodriguez recalled when his father died in 2011 before he graduated, Hale was “one of the people at school that would check on me.”
“If there’s any one person who showed me what love for the Permian Basin looks like, it was Buddy Hale,” stated Hannah Horick, communication and development coordinator at the Crisis Center of West Texas, adding, “Buddy loved Odessa and Permian High School and it showed in how he treated everyone around him.”
In addition to his dedication to every last one of his students, State Rep. Brooks Landgraf recalled Hale as “tirelessly active” in their church.
Landgraf eventually moved into a house two doors down from Buddy and Lita Hale and described them as “some of the best neighbors a young family could ask for.” Even in his battle against cancer, “Buddy Hale did everything full throttle,” Rep. Landgraf said.
The deaths of both Coach Gaines and Mr. Hale have undoubtedly made for a “sad week for Permian High School,” said former student Carissa Ramirez.
“It seems unfair to Permian High School to kickstart the school year with so much loss,” Ramirez added.
After Mr. Hale’s death, Ramirez said her family group text “went off,” given members of her family from 1996 through 2013 attended Permian High. Among those texts was a powerful statement by Ramirez’s father that could be attributed to Hale, Gaines and so many others who dedicate their lives to serving others with passion and integrity.
“Live a life and treat people in such a way that unrelated and distant people remember you. Imagine people 1000s of miles away and unknown to your family talking well about you,” stated her father.
“And that is it folks. That’s the message,” Ramirez said.
“To the teachers and administrators past and present, first off, THANK YOU,” she added. “Thank you for persevering through the ever-changing culture of curriculum and discipline. Your sacrifice does not go unnoticed, and your role is one of the most important in the world. Like Hale and Gaines, your students will remember you for the fire you sparked within them and the dedication you poured out for them.”