By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
WILLIAMSBURG -- When Jimmye Laycock accepted the job as football coach at William & Mary in 1980, he received some advice from Pat Dye, who was soon to take over the head coaching job at Auburn:
"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."
On Saturday, Laycock, 61, will begin his 30th season at William & Mary with a game at Virginia. Among division I or I-AA coaches, he trails only Penn State's Joe Paterno, Albany's Bob Ford and Florida State's Bobby Bowden in terms of tenure at one school.
Laycock never climbed the coaching ladder. Instead, he built his own legacy at a program he loves nestled in a community he appreciates. And those who know him identify the same reason: He fits. At the nation's second-oldest university in a town dedicated to preserving the past, the football coach has never left.
"Jimmye Laycock is synonymous with William & Mary," said Troy Keen, a former running back who is a vice president with Wells Fargo Securities. "It's hard to imagine one without the other."
He could have ascended to programs with more prestige, better facilities and larger budgets. Boston College offered Laycock its head coaching job in 1990, and Laycock even accepted the post before phoning the athletic director at 5:20 the following morning to turn it down. He wasn't prepared to leave home. The job instead went to Tom Coughlin, who later coached the New York Giants to a Super Bowl title.
Laycock interviewed for Maryland's head coaching vacancy in 1991 and declined offers from Duke and Southern Methodist, among others. He once even passed on an overture from Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, then the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator, to coach quarterbacks in the NFL.
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," Friedgen said.
Laycock squirms at the questions about his legacy. Even though he has won 189 games, he is known as much for what his players have done after leaving the program as what they did while they played.
Mike Tomlin, who played at William & Mary from 1990 to 1994, became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl when he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the NFL title last season. Tom Dexter, who played from 1987 to 1991, is a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch. J.D. Gibbs, who graduated in 1992, is the team president of Joe Gibbs Racing.
"We have other ones who've gone into other fields who aren't as recognizable as a Mike Tomlin, but they've been extremely successful in other fields," Laycock said. "Number one is bringing in good, solid guys, and then it's working like crazy to get them to reach their potential."
Although Laycock is quick to mention the successful alumni outside of football, there is a growing fraternity of men who coached or played under Laycock. Laycock's original staff included Friedgen, Washington Redskins special teams coordinator Danny Smith and Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott played for Laycock, thriving as a walk-on. On Aug. 20, McDermott coached on the opposite sideline from Indianapolis Colts defensive backs coach Alan Williams, who played at William & Mary from 1988 to 1991 and coached from 1996 to 2000.
They remain loyal to Laycock and the William & Mary program, insisting it's impossible to understand what the coach has done by simply looking at his record. Before the Jimmye Laycock Football Center was completed in 2008, the combination of inadequate facilities, sub-par funding and uncompromised academic regulations made William & Mary a challenging place to win.
"The joke in recruiting here is, 'What's your name and what's your SAT scores?' " Athletic Director Terry Driscoll said. "Because that could end a conversation."
Said Laycock: "Before we had [the new facility], there's a whole lot more reasons not to win than there were why to win. No question. You say you're going to win in football, you got to get kids in school, you got to have great facilities, all that kind of stuff. You go around the country, they'll say you got to have it. You got to spend a lot of money on coaches. We didn't do that. You got to spend a lot of money on recruiting. We didn't do that."
Laycock was sensitive about keeping football within moderation of other sports in the athletic department -- a rarity in college sports -- and only started pushing for a building a decade ago, when his son asked why the tennis team had received a new facility.
Then his 2004 team advanced to the division I-AA semifinals, kick-starting the fundraising for the Jimmye Laycock Football Center. It could have been completed earlier than 2008, but Laycock waited until there was enough money to build it right.
Friedgen and Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer attended the football facility's unveiling in June 2008. They were all on the same staff at The Citadel in the early 1970s, young assistants working for little and dreaming big.
"Who would have thought that two out of three would be millionaires?" Laycock said. "But I got my name on the building!"
Friedgen and Beamer are ACC coaches with recognizable names and programs that command attention. Laycock has stayed in Williamsburg, living in comparative obscurity in the same house since 1991. But his sizable legacy could be seen at the building's dedication, when the lawyers and businessmen and Super Bowl-winning coach all returned to pay homage to the man who set the foundation.
"I'm into players practicing the right way, doing things the right way, coaches handling things the right way," Laycock said. "Next thing you know, you're into it for 30 years."