After the loss to Midland Lee, the players are devastated. Winchell worries that he has lost the game for his team, and Chavez and McDougal are nearly beside themselves with sadness. Sharon Gaines, Gary Gaines’ wife, tries to find and console her husband after the loss. She, Gary, and their daughter Nicole know that the press and citizens of Odessa will be after their coach, for losing to Midland Lee is nearly unpardonable, especially since Permian was favored to win by a large margin.
Here, Bissinger turns to describe exactly what those family pressures are—he allows the reader a window in Coach Gaines’ home life. For Bissinger, Gaines wager, as a football coach, is not dissimilar to that of a prospector. When times are good, there is nothing better than leading a winning team. But when the bust comes, as it often does, the coach is the first one to be fired.
Bissinger describes Gaines’ travails during the season: his physical ailments, including an earache, and the constant pressures of coaching and trying to win in a football-crazed town. His wife and daughter understand that it is quite likely Gaines could be fired after the season, if Permian doesn’t make a run deep into the playoffs. Bissinger notes that high school football coaches in Texas have a great deal of notoriety in their communities—they are better known than mayors and city council members, and paid relatively large sums by their schools. But they have very little job security.
What is perhaps more surprising is the fact that Gaines, like his players, is subject to physical ailments during the football season. Gaines’ derive largely from the stress of the job, which Bissinger insinuates can be extremely intense. Gaines’ wife Sharon clearly worries about her husband, but understands, too, that her and her family’s social position in town derives from her husband’s job—one of the most high-profile in the region.
Bissinger compares Gaines to the prior coach at Permian, John Wilkins, who is now the athletic director for the county schools. Wilkins was called “Darth Vader” by some in Odessa, for his terse, no-nonsense style. Some fear that Gaines is too kind to his players, and, unlike Wilkins, too “soft” to win the big games. Wilkins was coach of the state champion Permian team in 1980, and is still famous in town for his winning ways.
Wilkins is, in many ways, the perfect foil to Gaines. Whereas Gaines tries his best—at times—to be concerned about his players needs (so long as he can continue to win games), Wilkins makes no bones about caring about one thing, and one thing only: winning the state title. Many in the town feel that Wilkins’ attitude was central to the team’s success, though the unstated corollary to Wilkins’ focus is that he cared more about the state title than about the wellbeing of his players. The success of Friday Night Lights is to see both the glory in this – how focus and belief can mold a team that is stronger than its parts and lead to victory – and tragedy, in that young men are giving up their bodies and educations to willingly serve a town’s desire for victory in a game.
Bissinger ends the chapter by following Jerrod McDougal and his father and mother. McDougal is mature for a high-schooler—he knows that football and oil are king in West Texas, and that there’s little he can do to change that. Bissinger describes McDougal as a determined player, happy to be a part of Odessa’s football culture, and a proud American patriot, in the cowboy mold of West Texas: guns, hunting, beer, and his beloved pickup truck. But Bissinger takes pains to show that Jerrod thinks closely about his place on the team, in Odessa, and in the world at large. He understands that Odessans’ love of football sets them apart from other parts of the country, and though he is proud of where he’s from, he acknowledges that there is a whole wide world beyond Texas, a world he might never see or learn about firsthand.
An intriguing section of the book. Here, Bissinger delves more deeply into Jerrod’s psyche, and finds that McDougal thinks a great deal about the world around him, even if it’s a world he has not seen. McDougal knows that oil and football are all West Texas has, yet he does not blame these things, nor does he feel that his life has been hampered in any way by its focus on the Permian team. Rather, McDougal wonders, genuinely, what more life has to offer, and whether anything else can live up to the thrill of football. Like others in Odessa, McDougal is a kind of gambler, and the enjoyment of being on the field is a powerful, if fleeting, intoxicant that he wants to experience for as long as possible.