William & Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock, the most tenured active coach in Division I football, announced his pending retirement on Sunday. The 2018 season will serve as his 39th and final year as the head man in Williamsburg.
Laycock, who turned 70 this past February, took his first and only job as a collegiate head coach with the Tribe in 1980. His career is grounded in multi-dimensional achievement, bringing previously unprecedented levels of success to William & Mary Football, all while maintaining a scrupulous, uncompromising brand of academic success.
"Coaching the William & Mary program is a tremendous honor," Laycock said in a statement on Sunday. "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."
William & Mary is the most recent CAA team to beat JMU, scoring a 44-41 victory on Halloween of the 2015 season.
Laycock's 2015 championship is one of five that the Tribe earned since joining the Yankee conference — a precursor to the CAA — in 1993. Prior to his tenure, William & Mary hadn't won more than six games in a season since Marvin Bass led the Tribe to a 7-3 record in 1951.
Laycock's time in Williamsburg is broad enough that it can framed in a myriad of different ways. One of the more substantive is his uninterrupted longevity — only Joe Paterno (46 years at Penn State) and Amos Alonzo Stagg (44 years at the University of Chicago) worked as the head coach of a Division 1 program for longer periods of time.
There's also the evolution of William & Mary's program, which is best represented by a $28 million dollar investment in Zable Stadium — a physical manifestation of Laycock's long-term success.
But perhaps the most impactful takeaway from Laycock's career is the ability to run a successful football program that primarily focuses on the players' status as students. William & Mary, which consistently ranks among the best non-Ivy League schools, is not an institution that would ever tolerate placing football over academics. Laycock built a successful program that deferred to the University's status as a high-caliber academic institution, which is an increasingly rare sight in college football. For that, and for many other reasons, he is admired by scores of his peers.
"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," said Tribe Athletics Director Samantha Huge. "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 & Mary."
Other prominent Virginia sports figures had similar feelings.
"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," retired Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer told The Daily Progress.
Though he may have flown under the radar nationally for much of his tenure, Laycock has been an institution in FCS Football for much longer than any of his current players have been alive. Few, if any, have a bad word to say about him. In an era of scandal and impropriety, his program is as clean and student-focused as they come.
With nine top-3 conference finishes, 12 playoff invitations and two FCS Semifinal appearances, Laycock will leave the William & Mary football program with a rich tradition of success, both on and off the football field.
When Jimmye Laycock walks off the field at the end of this season, he will have left Tribe Football in a radically better place than he found it. That's a simple legacy, but not at all an unimportant one.