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 coaches, he would outrank all but one in terms of longest coaching tenure.
Through 39 seasons at the helm for the Tribe, Laycock spent more seasons at William & Mary 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).
Over the decades, Laycock’s loyalty to the Tribe was unparalleled. But digging deeper, many would be surprised to learn that he came very close to leaving W&M.
Layock’s story is one of triumph, passion, and most importantly, love for William & Mary, his beloved Alma Mater.
For those who are well versed in the chronicles of Laycock, you’ll remember the 90s as proof of his unwavering support for the Green and Gold.
For Tribe fans who weren’t yet alumns by 1990, you’ll likely be surprised to hear this story.
We present to you: The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Jimmye Laycock.
The Early Years: Collegiate Career and W&M Hire
With over 240 wins to his name, Laycock is undoubtedly the most successful William & Mary Head Football Coach of all time, and one of the most distinguished coaches in college football history.
Throughout his tenure, Laycock led the Tribe to 24 winning seasons, 12 post-season appearances, and 6 conference championships.
With that all said, it is perhaps unsurprising that FBS programs have always taken notice of Laycock’s success.
While in college, playing quarterback at William & Mary (where else), Laycock learned under two “all-time” W&M Head Coaches: Marv Levy (coached the Buffalo Bills to 4 straight Super Bowls) and Lou Holtz (went on to coach Notre Dame for 10 years).
Laycock has often cited their early guidance as key in both his development as a player and as a coach later on.
To begin his coaching career, Laycock served as an Assistant Coach at three different collegiate programs throughout the 70s: Clemson, the Citadel, and Memphis State.
After spending time with these programs, Laycock returned to Williamsburg after accepting the Head Coach position at W&M in 1980. He was 32 years old.
He would never look back.
It was around this time that one of Laycock’s good friends (who was about to take over as the Head Coach at Auburn), Pat Dye, gave him some words of advice.
“Go there [to William & Mary] like you’ll be there forever, but get out of there the first chance you get.”
To be explicitly clear, Dye was suggesting that Laycock take the Head Coach role, but use W&M as a stepping stone to bigger and “better” coaching positions down the road.
While most ordinary coaches aspire to climb the coaching ladder in such a way, Jimmye Laycock was no ordinary coach. And FBS programs took notice.
In fact, 11 seasons into his role at W&M and now 43 years old, several big football programs began to take notice of Laycock’s success.
At the time, Laycock was in his prime, having racked up an impressive 68 wins — already making him the longest tenured and most winningest Tribe football coach in program history.
And it was Boston College who came knocking first.
The Decision: W&M vs. Boston College, Maryland & the NFL
In November 1990, Boston College made the decision to fire longtime Head Coach, Jack Bicknell. Virginia Tech’s Head Coach Frank Beamer interviewed first for the position before withdrawing his name from the contest — returning to Blacksburg.
Immediately following Beamer’s resignation, Boston College pursued none other than the Tribe’s Jimmye Laycock, their new top choice.
Immediately following an interview in Massachusetts, Laycock was offered the job.
What resulted was the toughest decision Laycock ever had to make in both his personal and professional life.
At the time, Laycock was making $73,000 a year at W&M (~$144,000, 2020 dollars). It was reported that, at Boston College, Laycock could have made in excess of $200,000 (~$396,000, 2020 dollars) a year.
That was nearly three times what he was making at W&M.
Moreover, the position offered higher prestige, a substantial operating budget, and much better athletic facilities.
Laycock accepted the offer in December 1990.
But it didn’t take long before his William & Mary roots began to take hold.
Immediately following his acceptance, Laycock began to doubt his decision.
The result was a long night with painful hours of thoughtful deliberation. Still dark out, Jimmye made a call at 5:30 AM, as detailed in this Washington Post article from 1990:
Laycock said he came to his decision between 4 and 5 a.m. Thursday after hardly sleeping.
He then called his coaching staff, W&M athletic director John Randolph and Boston College athletic director Chet Gladchuk to inform them of his decision.
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.
After a tumultuous week that nearly ended in W&M’s all-time great Head Coach leaving for a monstrous bonus, Laycock’s ties to the Green and Gold could not be broken.
His true home.
Here’s a fun fact: the Boston College job was eventually filled by Tom Coughlin. Ever heard of him?
Coughlin would go on to lead Boston College to a 21-13-1 record over three seasons, which included a big win over the #1-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Following the 1993 season, Coughlin moved to the NFL, and went on to lead the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories as Head Coach of the G-Men.
In the years following, the offers kept pouring in for Laycock. He actually interviewed for the Maryland job in 1991, and declined offers from Southern Methodist, Duke, and others.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Laycock even declined an offer to become a Quarterbacks Coach with the San Diego Chargers after his friend and then-Offensive Coordinator Ralph Friedgen made the offer.
But when it was all said and done, we know where Coach remained, and where he remains to this day. In Williamsburg, as member of the Tribe.
Jimmye Laycock’s Enduring Legacy
Laycock’s legacy will remain in Williamsburg and on the campus of William & Mary for decades, and perhaps a century or more to come.
He has mentored countless former W&M graduates who have gone on to do great things, from NFL players (Mike Leach, Jonathan Grimes, Sean Lissemore, etc.) to NFL coaches (Mike Tomlin, Sean McDermott, etc.).
We’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention several dozens of successful student athletes who have gone on to do great things outside of football.
Laycock’s footprint reaches well beyond the collegiate ranks, and well beyond the football field.
“Go there like you’ll be there forever,” Dye told him, “but get out of there the first chance you get.”
At the time, it seemed like sage advice. William & Mary, Laycock’s alma mater, had won six or more games just four times in the previous 25 years, and he inherited facilities so poor that the team shuttled to a nearby mental institution to practice on its grounds.
Zable Stadium’s locker rooms were so small, freshmen changed in a separate annex.
The building lacked air conditioning, and positional meetings were conducted in the same room at the same time in the thick Virginia heat.
Laycock now has an air-conditioned corner office in an $11 million, 30,000-square-foot facility that was privately funded and bears his name.
Looking back recently on Dye’s advice, and with the disdain of a modest man forced to speak about himself, Laycock deadpanned: “Maybe I ain’t smart enough to figure the second part out.”
He emphasizes he has no regrets, although he has wondered what might have been had he followed a traditional coaching path and moved up that ladder.
But Laycock abruptly banishes the thought, because who knows what would happen, he says. He could have been fired from the next job, or left on his own.
So he stayed and guided his acclaimed offenses in small-conference games that were often relegated to regional radio. As a result, Laycock is seldom discussed among the game’s legendary coaches.
“He should be. He really should be.”