For the last several decades, there has been one overarching, pervasive presence that has all but defined the William & Mary Tribe football experience. A humble man from Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, he got his start in Williamsburg following a successful high school football career. As a quarterback for the Tribe, he would learn from two all-time great head coaches in Marv Levy and Lou Holtz. Following graduation, and after a few assistant coaching gigs, he would return to his alma mater in 1980 as its Head Coach. He was just 32 years old. Now 70 years young, he’s hanging up the cleats with over 200 wins to his name.
Joe Paterno. Bobby Bowden. Frank Beamer. Bear Bryant. If William & Mary Head Coach Jimmye Laycock were to enter his name among college football’s all-time elite head coaches, he would outrank all but one in terms of longest coaching tenure. Wrapping up his 39th season at the helm for the Tribe this season, Laycock has spent more seasons at W&M than Bowden (FSU, 34 years), Beamer (VT, 29 years), and Bryant (Alabama, 25 years) did at their respective schools, trailing only Joe Paterno (PSU, 46 years).
To Put This in Perspective
In 1951, well before Laycock’s time, William & Mary’s football program was shaken to its core by an academic scandal; upon review, the school found that player transcripts were falsified (not unlike UNC’s issues in 2010). Prior to the scandal, W&M football was on the rise — and no, not just regionally, but nationally. From 1940 to 1950, W&M boasted 44 consecutive victories against in-state competitors. Now stop and let that sink in: 44 wins against in-state schools (Virginia, Richmond, Virginia Tech, etc.). However, once the aforementioned transcripts were discovered, it’s not hyperbole to say that the program began a 30-year downward spiral. From 1952-1980, the school amassed more than 5 wins just 4 times.
That is, until Jimmye Laycock arrived in 1980.
Nearly 40 years into his tenure, having amassed an eye-popping 249-193-2 record and 10 playoff appearances, one can begin to understand the impact of his accomplishments. To say that the situation was bad when he got here would be an understatement. When Laycock took over, the football program had facilities so poor that it held practice on the fields of a nearby mental institution. Let that sink in…would you have taken the job?
We’ll never forget a quote from a 2009 Washington Post article, which detailed an exchange between Laycock and fellow coach Pat Dye: “Go there like you’ll be there forever,” Dye told him, “but get out of there the first chance you get.”
Lucky for us, Laycock didn’t take his friend’s advice.
An Immeasurable Legacy
The number of players and coaches that Laycock has mentored throughout the years is, quite literally, too large to count. In fact, this Saturday, early reports are estimating that about 350 of his former players will be in attendance for his final game, appropriately coming against arch-rival Richmond. An overarching goal of Laycock’s over the past four decades has been to produce true scholar-athletes. And he has more than succeeded in that goal. Bring in the right people — men who work hard on the field, but who work and study even harder off of it. This emphasis on character is something that escapes most collegiate programs in today’s era, most of which are simply looking to win games at all costs. Perhaps most impressive about Laycock has been his aversion to that mindset.
For a small, academically-minded school in Southern Virginia, W&M stands out with two current NFL Head Coaches (the Buffalo Bills’ Sean McDermott and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning Mike Tomlin). And yes, both of those head coaches played for Laycock at W&M. As the years went by, it certainly seemed as though Laycock found the magic formula, both on and off the field. In our most recent count, 8 current NFL coaches, including the two aforementioned head coaches, worked for or played under Laycock at William & Mary. In addition to those working in the NFL, there are several more working in the collegiate ranks. In fact, Laycock’s final game will come against Richmond Head Coach Russ Huesman, who was a member of Laycock’s coaching staff for 13 years from 1984-1997. Huesman was recently quoted by the Richmond-Times Dispatch as saying, “He did so much for me and my career. I’m where I am today because of him,” Huesman said Monday. “I consider him my mentor. He taught me so much as a young football coach. The guy’s incredible.”
And that’s just one story, of hundreds more, that you’ll continue to hear well after Laycock is gone.
Why Didn’t He Leave?
In 1990, 10 years into his tenure at W&M, Boston College offered Laycock a 300% raise to take over their program; Laycock initially accepted the offer.
Still dark out, Laycock made a call at 5:30 AM, as detailed in a Washington Post article from 1990:
Laycock said he came to his decision between 4 and 5 a.m. Thursday after hardly sleeping…
Then the phone rings at 5:30 this morning. It’s Jimmye. He said he spent the whole night talking it over with his family. He said they just couldn’t do it. He said Williamsburg is where their home is and where their hearts are.”
Laycock’s family was an overriding factor in his decision, colleagues said.
“It’s the ties here, it’s the people here, it’s the family here, it’s the degree of comfort you have here, it’s the players you have here,” Laycock said.
Because this is Home.
The Boston College job was eventually filled by Tom Coughlin; over three seasons, Coughlin would lead the Eagles to a 21-13-1 record, which included a program-altering win over the #1-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Following the 1993 season, Coughlin moved to the NFL, where he would lead the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories as Head Coach.
But Laycock doesn’t think about what could have been. His impact on our alma mater’s football program, and the College in general, serves as a reminder to us all about what it means to be a member of the Tribe. Do things the right way. Work hard. Stay the course. Love your school. Help others.
Simply put, his love for W&M far outweighed any amount of money that could be thrown his way — even a 300% bonus.
We’re happy to have been along for the ride.