Jimmye Laycock, the College of William and Mary’s head football coach, stood in the house he built at more than 39 seasons at the helm of the team. As television cameras focused on him, he smiled and laughed while standing in the office and training facility that bears his name.
“The closer we get to it, is it getting harder to walk away from this? What’s the hardest part of walking away?” one television reporter asked.
“Well, to be honest, I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to walking away or leaving,” Laycock said. “You get in this business and you’re so programmed to go from week to week and prepare for a game. Basically, that’s what we’ve been doing … and leaving that other stuff behind.”
Saturday’s game will be Laycock’s last as head coach.
After nearly 40 years, Laycock has affected hundreds of people’s lives with his coaching. He’s trying not to look back, but some things can’t be avoided.
“There have been certain moments during the year that you stop and think, this is the last time,” he said. “When you’re back in preseason and then you’re into the season and all that, you’re thinking it’s a long ways away. At homecoming, it hit me a little bit.”
When Gary Ripple first met Laycock in 1980, the pair decided student-athletes would be students first. Ripple, dean of admissions at the college from 1980 to 1989, worked alongside Laycock and his staff to admit athletes who passed the school’s rigorous academic muster.
“Coach Laycock knew what the challenges were at William and Mary academically,” Ripple said. “He knew it wouldn’t do him any good to recruit players who weren’t up to the academic challenge.”
Instead, Ripple said, Laycock recruited the best and brightest.
“I think you’d call them extremely well-balanced, Renaissance-type young men, who had more talent than just the ability to run and catch a football,” Ripple said.
“He has been an incredible gift not just to the football program and not just to the college, but to the entire community,” Ripple said. “I think he has consistently produced a program that is fun to watch, fun to go to games and creates in all of us an incredible sense of pride.”
For Fleming Buck, president of the Quarterback Club, Laycock has felt like a friend from day one.
“We’re fans and we’re family,” the booster club president said.
As for Laycock’s legacy, Ripple and Buck agree the veteran head coach is leaving the football program better than when he arrived.
“It’s better. Your ups and downs, injuries and the academic strains on the kids … William and Mary has a lot of potential,” Buck said of the program. “I don’t know if the college is built around the football team ...(but Laycock) has made a big difference with the integrity of the players and the graduation rates. I think winning is second.”
To forge not just good players, but good men has always been Laycock’s goal, Buck said, and his legacy lives on in the people he taught, worked with and trained.
“If you could sum it up,” Buck said, “the players are like his children. The only thing as a family man — as I am with two kids — your only legacy is your children. I think Jimmye looks at the players like that, not so much win or lose but what kind of person you become. Like Tomlin said, he took a lot of Jimmye’s traits and used them.”
When he announced his retirement in August, Laycock said there are three things he wants to do: go to the beach in August, tailgate in September and play golf in October.
But until Sunday, he said he’ll settle for ending his career with a bang — a Saturday win over the Richmond Spiders.
Want to go?
The game will be 2 p.m. at Zable Stadium. Purchase tickets online at bit.ly/2FtmveJ.
Before he took over as head coach, the team had won six or more games in a season in only four of 25 seasons.
In his first three seasons coaching the team, starting in 1980, the football team ended each season with a losing record.
During Laycock’s next 35 seasons, the team earned 10 NCAA playoff berths, two trips to the Epson Ivy Bowl, two Colonial Athletic Association championships and three Atlantic 10 conference championships, according to the College of William and Mary’s athletics page.
WM’s full record under Laycock is 249 wins, 194 losses and two ties.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.