Three decades of excellence for Laycock| December 8, 2009
The captains of the William & Mary football team wanted to do more.
Sure, last Saturday’s 24-3 rout of No. 1 Southern Illinois on the road had elevated the Tribe into the semifinals of the NCAA playoff tournament, inched them one game closer to a possible national championship, and tied the school record for victories in a season with 11.
However, something was missing. Senior defensive end and captain Adrian Tracy grabbed one of the footballs used that afternoon, marshaled the other captains, and approached the man standing in the middle of a cold, muddy locker room.
“For you, coach,” he told Jimmye Laycock, extending the ball to commemorate Laycock’s 200th head-coaching victory. It’s one that officially thrusts him into college football royalty as only the 13th coach at the FCS level to experience such unbridled success.
“It was pretty special in the locker room,” quarterback and captain R.J. Archer said. “He’s been working so hard at it for such a long time, and doing it really well for a long time. It was just really special, and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”
Laycock reacted in typical coach fashion. Though obviously grateful, he reminded the team that they still had unfinished business in the NCAA playoffs, starting Friday night at 8 p.m. in the national semifinals at Villanova. That game can be seen on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com.
“We didn’t even know until the Wednesday before the game that he was going for 200,” said receiver Cameron Dohse, who heard about it from an athletic administrator. “He never mentioned it. It was hush-hush almost. When we had our players-only meeting on Friday (tight end Rob) Varno said something like, ‘By the way, guys, we have a chance to get the old coach his 200th win.’ We were like, ‘Well geez, let’s get it.’ ”
Asked where he put the ball, Laycock blushed.
“I had it in the backseat of my car,” he said. “I’m driving this morning and I hear something hit the floor. I’m wondering, ‘What the heck is that?’ and when I turn around, I see the ball on the floor. So I brought it into the office.”
Later, he admitted that he has a closet filled with game balls and trophies and other athletic trinkets and baubles. He’s never been into displaying memorabilia.
“I’m sure the story of the ball is 100 percent true,” safety David Caldwell said, laughing. “You know Coach Laycock. He’s like, ‘Well, you know, we’ve still got . . . uh . . . uh . . . two more and I’ll be happy.’ Coach is a humble guy.
“But I recognize it as a great achievement. It’s huge.”
Since Saturday, former coaches and players have joined the 2009 Tribe in congratulating their former boss – not that he’s allowed himself the time to reflect. Preparing for Friday’s game at Villanova, the winner of which advances to the national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Dec. 18, precludes any such smell-the-roses moment.
“Maybe after the season,” he allowed.
But he wasn’t completely silent on the issue, even if it was to deflect the credit in another direction.
“It speaks a lot for the administration here as far as the stability they’ve provided,” he said. “And it speaks for a lot of really, really good players and coaches who have contributed to that over the years.”
You can’t overestimate the importance of loyalty to Laycock’s success. Despite nearly taking a job at Boston College years ago, the coach has remained loyal to W&M, and it has remained loyal to him. It’s a trait so rarely found at many colleges these days that it’s easily overlooked by those analyzing the program from outside the ivy-covered walls.
But Villanova coach Andy Talley, whose Wildcats play host to the Tribe in the national semifinals on Friday night, believes it to be fundamental to Laycock’s operation.
“It’s part of the structure at William & Mary, and they’re very fortunate to have that guy,” Talley said. “Honoring him by naming the building after him speaks that it’s a two-way street. I think they have a great ingredient there, and it’s added up to success, year in and year out.”
Laycock doesn’t like to compare the players or the teams he’s coached over the years, but it’s clear that he holds the 2009 squad in high esteem.
“To get 200 in a game like that with a team like this, that means a lot,” Laycock said. “This is a very good team, a very hard-working team, and I was glad that they were the ones who could share in that milestone.”
This year’s team may be special to Laycock because of its exceptional work ethic, but it reminds Talley of many Tribe squads of the past.
“The recruitment of the player who goes to William & Mary is one we respect,” said Talley, who has 205 victories to his credit. “They are very intelligent football players, given the academic prowess that the school has.”
Dr. Doug Martini, who played guard for Laycock in the early 1980s, says one of the most impressive aspects of his former coach is that he never tried to stifle a player’s academic ambition.
“I took a road less traveled in going to medical school,” said Martini, who served as team physician for the Carolina Hurricanes when they won hockey’s Stanley Cup in 2006. “He never held me back from my dreams. It was pretty cumbersome, taking labs and doing all of the things needed to get to medical school. Most programs don’t allow you that dream.
“Because he was a character guy who supported it, I got a chance to play college football, get a first-rate education, and go to medical school. I don’t think I could have done that at very many places.”
Laycock, ’70, who played quarterback for the Tribe, has never backed away from challenging schedules. High-powered, well-heeled programs such as Penn State, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Miami and others regularly appear on the slate, and they’ve provided the backdrop for some of Laycock’s finest coaching moments.
“Jimmye has always been a very cerebral guy,” Villanova’s Talley said. “I think he takes his former quarterbacking at the College very seriously. He still runs the offense, and it is always a strong test to try and defend.”
Martini recalls a game during his career against an East Carolina team so top-heavy with talent that “we maybe had three guys who could have played for them.
“They were supposed to kill us, and we were up 17-0 before they even got the ball . . . We wound up winning a very close game.”
This season, a stunning opening-night victory at the University of Virginia became the springboard for a remarkable season.
“He was forced to have gameplans that suited our strengths,” Martini said.
The self-centered football philosophy is one Laycock still appears to espouse. Several times during the last two weeks, as questions have poured regarding how to cope with playoff opponents based in Utah and Illinois, Laycock has calmly explained that he wasn’t as worried about Weber State or Southern Illinois as he was finding ways for his own team to improve.
“Ever since I’ve been here, he’s preached that you do things the right way and the expected outcomes will come,” receiver Chase Hill said. “That’s why he’s been here so long, why he has the support of the community, why he has the faith of the players, because we do things the right way.”
Laycock doesn’t preach anything he’s not willing to practice. His work ethic is contagious, Dohse said.
“Pretty much any hour of the day, if we stop by his car is here,” Dohse said. “We know he’s working hard. Everyone on the team sees that, and it makes us want to do the same thing. Someone who’s been here as long as he has, and has had the success he’s had, you want to be a part of that.
“One of the things we always hear about is the William & Mary tradition. He’s a huge part of that, and everybody who comes here wants to be a part of that as well.”
Perhaps Talley summarized it best, the business-like approach, the victories, the melding of academics and athletics, the memories and the relationships forged over three decades.
“You know, in all of the years that we’ve played them, it’s always been a first-class program.”