Anchored by success, integrity and longevity, Jimmye Laycock’s historic tenure as William and Mary’s head football coach will close after the upcoming season.
Laycock, 70 and in good health, informed Tribe players and staff of his plans Sunday evening as they gathered for Monday’s start of training camp. He finalized his decision with W&M athletic director Samantha Huge a few days earlier and will conduct a news conference Monday morning.
“Coaching the William and Mary program is a tremendous honor,” Laycock said in a statement. “I have always taken a great deal of pride in leading my alma mater and have been grateful for the opportunity to work with such tremendous young men. Any success we have had is shared among all the great assistant coaches and the thousands of outstanding student-athletes who have come through our program.
“This was obviously a difficult decision, but the time was right to make this announcement. That being said, I can assure you that the coming season has my full attention and preparing this team will have my complete focus.”
Historic is a daring word to use in a town such as Williamsburg and at an institution such as W&M. Moreover, Laycock will recoil at the term and any fuss over his impending retirement.
But while Laycock didn’t diagram pass routes for George Washington or fleece Thomas Jefferson in a 10-shilling Nassau, the word absolutely applies. His teams are 245-188-2 in 38 seasons, and here are just a few milestones associated with that record:
• Laycock’s uninterrupted tenure at a NCAA Division I program ranks third all-time to Joe Paterno’s 46 seasons at Penn State and Amos Alonzo Stagg’s 41 at the University of Chicago. Eddie Robinson and Bob Ford had longer runs at Grambling and Albany, respectively, but those programs were not Division I throughout.
• No Virginia college football coach in any division has guided a school to as many victories or for as long.
• No active coach nationally has more Division I career wins.
• No college football coach has led his alma mater longer.
This Laycock did at a college steeped in academic prestige, the birthplace of Phi Beta Kappa, without a hint of NCAA impropriety. In the NCAA’s most recent Academic Progress Rate report, for 2016-17, Tribe football had a perfect 1,000 score.
“What he’s done there and how long he’s done it has really been tremendous, at a university that has the academic requirements it has,” said retired Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, Laycock’s close friend since their time together as assistants at The Citadel in the early 1970s. “He recruited good students and good football players, and then they coached ‘em up. …
“I’m proud to call him a good friend and a guy that I just think a lot of, both professionally and as a person.”
Five of Laycock’s teams won conference championships, and 10 earned bids to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, most recently in 2015, when W&M advanced to the second round. The Tribe reached the national semifinals in 2004 and ’09, the quarterfinals in 1990 and ’96.
“The truest test of all, the truest, is the test of time,” said former Christopher Newport coach Matt Kelchner, an assistant to Laycock for 16 years. “And to do it with the level of integrity you have to at a place like William and Mary. … People out there don’t realize what you have to do to win in college football at a place like William and Mary. I witnessed that first hand, the things you have to do that are different, so very different than everywhere else. …
“There were many, many times when the guys on the other side of the ball had a lot more talent. Not saying that we didn’t have talent at William and Mary, because we did. But it’s a different kind of talent. What he did, that’s better stuff than a lot of these guys that are getting praised day in and day out at some of these other places.”
Most of Laycock’s best teams were fueled by his imaginative offenses, an acumen dating to his days as a W&M quarterback. Led by signature talents such as Shawn Knight, David Corley, Lang Campbell and Michael Clemons, the Tribe was wildly entertaining, often defeating opponents with far more resources and fewer restrictions.
But the Tribe’s offense, indeed the program overall, has declined recently. Last season’s 2-9 record matched Laycock’s worst at W&M, and for the first time the Tribe went winless in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Though Laycock’s contract expires after this season, there are no signs his decision was coerced by an administration that will celebrate his service throughout the year. Rather, Laycock consulted with family and confidants, Beamer included, and decided it is time.
His legacy cemented in 2008 with the football center that carries his name, Laycock’s influence on the sport and his profession endures in those who played and worked for him. His coaching tree includes three NFL head coaches in Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Buffalo’s Sean McDermott and Atlanta’s Dan Quinn.
Former Laycock assistants Kelchner, Russ Huesman (Chattanooga and Richmond) and Mike London (Richmond, Virginia and Howard) became college head coaches. Huesman’s UR Spiders are the opponent in Laycock’s final regular-season game, Nov. 17 in Williamsburg.
Seven of Laycock’s former players were on NFL rosters as training camps opened this summer, including defensive backs DeAndre Houston-Carson and B.W. Webb, the latter a Newport News native.
“It is rare that one individual can have such a monumental impact on a university, but Coach Laycock has left an indelible mark on William and Mary,” Huge said in a statement. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Coach, and his tenure stands as a testament to the principle of Tribe athletics that excellence in athletics and academics go hand in hand. The contributions of his former players to their communities and to the world are his greatest legacy.”
Much like Beamer, Laycock in retirement will frequent the golf course and be enshrined by the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. And like Beamer at Tech, Laycock will remain part of W&M’s football fabric, and not just because a building bears his name.
Oh, Laycock may want to keep his distance. But bank on his successor and Tribe administrators insisting he not stray far, the better to mine his institutional knowledge and wisdom.
A former assistant coach at Newport News High School, Laycock accepted the W&M position in December 1979 after three seasons as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. According to Daily Press accounts, two candidates turned down the job: then-Florida State offensive coordinator George Henshaw and Kansas City Chiefs assistant Bobby Ross, Laycock’s boss at The Citadel.
Third choice. Perfect choice.
Laycock at William and Mary
Dec. 21, 1979: At the age of 31, Jimmye Laycock (Class of 1970) is hired as William and Mary’s 29th football coach. The former Clemson offensive coordinator signs a three-year contract worth about $35,000 annually.
Oct. 11, 1980: After an 0-5 start, William and Mary beats Dartmouth 17-14 for Laycock’s first win. The Tribe would finish the season at 2-9.
Nov. 19, 1983: W&M beats Richmond 24-15 to finish at 6-5, its first winning season since 1977.
Nov. 29, 1986: William and Mary wins nine games and makes its first Division I-AA (now FCS) playoff appearance.
Sept. 24, 1988: Laycock wins his 46th game to overtake Rube McCray as W&M’s all-time winningest coach.
Jan. 9, 1989: In Tokyo, the Tribe defeats a team of Japanese all-stars 73-3 in the now-defunct Ivy Bowl.
Nov. 24, 1990: William and Mary wins its first I-AA playoff game by defeating Massachusetts 38-0. W&M finishes with 10 victories, the most in school history.
Dec. 20, 1990: On the day Boston College had planned to announce him as its next head coach, Laycock holds a press conference in W&M Hall to say he’s staying in Williamsburg.
Dec. 4, 2004: The Tribe advances to the I-AA semifinals by defeating Delaware 44-38 in overtime. W&M loses the following week to conclude an 11-3 season.
Dec. 20, 2004: W&M quarterback Lang Campbell wins the Walter Payton Award, which goes to the best player in Division I-AA football.
June 21, 2008: William and Mary opens the Jimmye Laycock Football Center, a 30,000-square-foot facility that cost $11 million.
Sept. 5, 2008: William and Mary opens its season with a 26-14 win at Virginia. The Tribe finishes 11-3 and returns to the national semifinals.
Dec. 6, 2009: With a 24-3 victory over Southern Illinois in the FCS quarterfinals, Laycock gets his 200th career win. He’s the 13th coach in FCS history to reach that number.
Sept. 17, 2016: The Tribe defeats Norfolk State in the debut of Zable Stadium’s $27 million renovation, which includes a new press box, 11 suites, and an upper deck on the west side.
Aug. 5, 2018: Laycock announces that his 39th season as William and Mary’s head coach will be his last.
Timeline by Dave Johnson, Daily Press
Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.