Editor’s note: The following is an opinion-editorial (op-ed) piece written by KRBC Evening Anchor, David Bacon in memory of Coach Gary Gaines who recently passed away after battling Alzheimer’s Disease.

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Goodbye, Coach Gary Gaines…. And thank you for what you did in your two coaching stints in Abilene.

Gary was primarily known for his role in leading Odessa Permian to a state championship in the late ‘80s as the head coach. That role was magnified by the book Friday Night Lights, written about a season at Permian when Gary was there. Then, there was a movie, and later, a TV series based on the book.

But Gary also coached in the Key City, serving as the head coach at Abilene High in the mid ‘90s, and he returned in the early 2000s to be the head coach at Abilene Christian University.

There was a time when Abilene High was not a perennial playoff contender. There was also a time when ACU did not compete well in NCAA Division I football. Local fans should thank Gary Gaines for his role in both of those achievements.

David Bacon hosting KTAB Sports (1981)

There was a time when AHS and ACU both struggled in football. I was a witness to those struggles because I was the Sports Director at KTAB-TV at the time, plus I called high school football games on Friday night, and then ACU games on Saturdays, on local radio.

When Gary arrived at Abilene High, one-or-two win seasons were the norm— not the one-or-two loss seasons they expect now.   

Gary made two significant decisions in that short time at AHS. One was when he kicked one of the few senior stars off the team before the season opener for violation of team rules. I am pretty sure that the previous coaching staff would’ve looked the other way and let him play, but Gary decided to set a new tone for Eagle football, and played a sophomore instead.  It made for a rough season, but it sent the message that things were going to be different on the northside.

The other significant decision made by Gary was to hire a young, up-and-coming coach by the name of Steve Warren to the staff.  When Gary left, Warren was elevated to head coach and the ascent began that eventually resulted in the 2009 State Championship won by the Warbirds.

Later, Gary returned to the Key City to take over a program at ACU that had fallen to the bottom of the Lone Star Conference. Gary was charged with making the Wildcats a contender again. One of his biggest challenges was to get the school to commit the resources necessary to achieve that goal. 

To prove what needed to be done, Gary scheduled games against Division II powerhouses like Central Arkansas and UC/Davis. The Wildcats got soundly thumped, but they saw what they needed to do to compete at that level.   

The game against Central Arkansas was so lopsided that my broadcast partner that night, ACU SID Lance Fleming, said at one point in the broadcast, “I don’t know what to say, I’ve got nothing.”

But within a few years, there was something to talk about as Gary led ACU to a win over perennial powerhouse Texas A&M/Kingsville on the road.

Later, Gary turned the reins over to Chris Thomsen, who was able to utilize the resources the school entrusted to football under Gary. The school became a regular NCAA Division II contender, which led to eventual decision to move up in classification to NCAA Division I at the FCS level.

Looking back at what Gary accomplished at both AHS and ACU, Warren and Thomsen did a lot of the gardenwork to sprout wins… But it was Gary who helped plant the seeds for the success in both programs.