Friends mourn loss of 'gentle giant' as father figure, great coach, person
• WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
• WHERE: Palacios High School, fine arts building
• WHEN: 6-8 p.m. Friday
• WHERE: Palacios Funeral Home
• WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
• WHERE: First Baptist Church in Palacios
Gary Haynes Jr., an assistant coach with the Palacios football team, passed away Thursday night from an apparent heart attack, athletic director Brad Bowden confirmed Friday night.
He was 40.
"He was well respected and well liked by everybody," said Bowden. "He was a phenomenal, tremendous, top-level athlete. He had a good rapport with the kids. He had a good rapport with the coaches. He will be missed tremendously."
Haynes was also an assistant coach with the junior varsity boys' basketball team and girls' track and field team.
Haynes, a former gridiron standout as a nose guard and fullback for Palacios, excelled on the field after his days playing prep football.
He was a first-team Junior College All-American as a member of the defensive line at Trinity Valley Community College, where he earned Most Valuable Player on its national championship team in 1994.
He went on to play for the University of Houston, where he earned all-conference honors in 1995 and 1996.
He was on the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad for two years in 1996-97 but never made the roster.
"He was like a father figure to a bunch of kids," said Palacios assistant coach Gary Figirova. "The kids loved him. He was a bigger-than-life kind of guy."
There was widespread shock with news of Haynes' sudden death, including from longtime friend Trent Weixelman.
"Nobody expected this," said Weixelman, an assistant football coach and JV basketball coach for Palacios. He has known Haynes for 35 years. He played quarterback with Haynes at Palacios. "It was just a real shock to everyone.
"He's always been a big guy," he added. "He's always been bigger than life. He was kind of indestructible. He was never a mean guy. I never saw him fight my whole life - as intimidating as he was. He was a big man but a gentle giant.
"To his credit, he was a gentle guy."
Weixelman said Haynes was perfectly fine when he was working on his vehicle at home.
Then, he started breathing heavily.
"His chest was tightening, and he was breathing heavy, so he told his wife he needed to go to the hospital," said Weixelman.
When they got there, "They put him on a machine," he added. "Until they had to administer chest compressions on him."
Haynes' wife, La Shanda, updated Weixelman on his condition. When he got there, he said, doctors continued on the chest compressions for about 15 to 20 minutes.
"Then it went from bad to worse."
Weixelman said Haynes worked in Houston for 12 years and moved back to Palacios right around the time former coach Mike Treybig hired Weixelman in 2005.
"He wanted to coach and teach full-time," said Weixelman. "He wanted an opportunity to coach on the varsity level."
Haynes, Weixelman said, was a teacher's aide who worked in the special education department. He was set to finish his online degree at the University of Phoenix.
"He was a hands-on coach," added Weixelman, who also went to Trinity Valley. "We spent a lot of time together. We had a good relationship, and we got closer and closer.
"We used to take trips when the boys played in El Campo in the spring," he added. "And we got to spend some time together on those rides.
"He was a player's coach because of his experience. He played the highest level there is. He can relate to it real well with the kids."
He said Haynes was a role model not only to his three boys but to the community as well.
"It's unusual that kids get to grow up with their original mother and father, and he was doing a very good job raising his kids the right way. That meant a lot to him," he said. "And he also invested in the community. He reached out and touched other people. He's invested well in the community - not just his own but everybody else's as well."
Weixelman said he'll miss the times he's shared with his best friend.
"Just the camaraderie we've shared," he said. "Having to grow up together and mature and watch our kids grow together - I'll miss that.
"And the best rides."
Haynes is survived by his wife, La Shanda Haynes; and three boys, Dewayne, 13, Gary, 11 and Kaiden, 9.