Jimmye Laycock convened his final game-day staff meeting at 10:59 a.m. Saturday. The gathering was brief and similar to the 444 that came before during his peerless career as William and Mary’s head football coach.
Laycock and his 10 assistant coaches finalized strategy for the afternoon’s contest against Richmond. They reviewed, position-by-position, the Tribe’s personnel.
But Laycock’s close was unlike any of his others.
“I need y’all to have your best game,” Laycock said. “It’s going to be a tough game for me. I may not be as sharp.”
There was an oh-so-brief silence.
“We got ya, Coach,” said defensive coordinator and associate head coach Trevor Andrews.
’Twas that kind of day at Zable Stadium. Everyone had Laycock’s back as he concluded his 39th and final season as W&M’s big whistle.
But try as they might, his players and coaches could not author the Hollywood ending that so many craved as Laycock, 70, headed toward retirement.
Richmond 10, William and Mary 6.
As Laycock would be the first to tell you, the contest was unsightly. Neither offense ever found a rhythm, and the Tribe’s mistakes — the most glaring were three turnovers, a missed field goal and extra point — were decisive.
But Saturday wasn’t about winning and losing for W&M (4-6). Much as he protested, Saturday was about celebrating the third-longest continuous head-coaching tenure in Division I football history.
“It’s not what y’all wanted, I know,” Laycock told the team in the locker room afterward. “It’s not what I wanted. I told you before, if you’re afraid to lose, don’t play the game. … Losing’s no fun. I’ve been there and done that.”
He won far more than he lost, winning 249, losing 194 and tying two. Ten of his teams reached the national playoffs and two advanced to the semifinals — extraordinary for any program, much less one with modest resources and non-negotiable academic standards.
Laycock has coached more than 800 young men, and approximately 400 — nearly half! — flocked to Williamsburg for Saturday, a stunning number.
Jim Cavanaugh, a former college teammate and Newport News High School co-worker, drove up from Charlotte for the occasion and stopped by Laycock’s office two hours before kickoff to reminisce.
A reserve from Laycock’s first teams in the early 1980s wandered up to his office Friday and said, “Coach, you won’t remember me.”
Au contraire. He knew it was Charlie Comiskey.
And that’s the way Laycock has always rolled. Everybody is somebody in his W&M football program.
That’s why he gladly posed for a pregame photo with Jim Grasser and his two sons. Grasser is the W&M police officer who’s shepherded Laycock during games the last 11 seasons.
That’s why Mayra Ayala wears a pendant marking the Tribe’s 2015 Colonial Athletic Association championship, the same one awarded to the coaches’ wives. She’s the housekeeper in the Laycock Center, the aptly named football operations building.
And that’s why Laycock treated the student training staff to dinner at Paul’s Deli on Tuesday.
I asked Laycock how he slept Friday night. He smiled.
“Amazing what two Benadryl will do for you,” he said.
With that, Laycock was off to address more than two dozen prospects. Overlooking the stadium, the recruiting lounge was littered with game programs.
The cover had pictures of Laycock from his first win (1980 versus Dartmouth), his 100th (1995 over New Hampshire) and 200th (against Southern Illinois in the 2009 playoffs).
The headline said it all: “THANK YOU, COACH!”
At 1:36 p.m., 30 minutes before kickoff, Laycock gathered the team in the locker room to honor the seniors. He told everyone to take a knee. Then he had the seniors stand.
Rather than grope for words, Laycock simply clapped, and the players immediately joined the chorus.
Twenty minutes later, it was about time to take the field.
“Embrace it,” Laycock told his players. “This is fun. This is what you worked for. … Now let’s go play!”
It wasn’t emotional. It wasn’t about him. That would come later.
As the players made their way to the tunnel, junior tailback Albert Funderburke paused by Laycock.
“Love you, Coach.”
“Go, go, go,” Laycock said, wanting no part of pregame sentiment.
That goal became impossible when he emerged from the tunnel and was greeted by his daughters, Melanie and Mimi. They were in tears, and their daddy was clearly moved.
W&M had progressed of late, upsetting 16th-ranked Maine on homecoming and winning at Villanova. But Saturday was a step back.
Coached by former Laycock assistant Russ Huesman, Richmond (4-7) nursed a 10-0 lead deep into the fourth quarter. Led by defensive end Maurice Jackson, the Spiders sacked Tribe quarterbacks four times and limited W&M to 59 yards rushing.
Shon Mitchell threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to DeVonte Dedmon with 47 seconds remaining to draw W&M within 10-6, but Kris Hooper’s point-after missed, and his subsequent onside kick did not travel the required 10 yards.
Laycock handed his headset to Grasser and waited for Richmond to run off the final seconds. There were tears and resignation on players’ faces as the game ended at 4:58 p.m.
Andrews patted Laycock on the back as Laycock strolled to midfield and greeted Huesman. Following a quick, on-field television interview, Laycock headed toward the locker room and his final postgame speech.
But granddaughters Grail and Nolan Johnson stopped him with hugs, a perfect moment.
Equally perfect: Laycock’s brief and powerful locker-room address.
“The wins and the losses and the games and the championships and all that,” Laycock said, fighting back tears. “They fade. Relationships don’t. Friendships don’t. Cherish those. …
“Don’t ever, don’t ever give that up. That’s why so many former players are back. … That’s about all I’m capable of saying right now. I wish I could do more.”
Jimmye Laycock did more than he’ll ever know.
David Teel, 757-247-4636, email@example.com, Twitter @DavidTeelatDP