WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) – As William and Mary searched for an athletic director last winter, the college’s iconic football coach heard from some concerned friends.
“Sure hope they don’t hire a woman,” folks whispered to Jimmye Laycock.
Laycock laughed then and laughs now. He may be a quintessential old-school coach, but he’s no stranger to strong, accomplished women, and if a qualified female candidate emerged, he was all in.
Sure enough, after on-campus interviews, Laycock enthusiastically endorsed Samantha Huge for the job. Three months into her tenure, he’s glad he did.
“There was absolutely no hesitation after I met with her and talked with her,” Laycock said. “I felt that she was ideally suited for this position, and I’ve been even more impressed since she’s been here.”
Huge is Laycock’s fifth, and probably last, athletic director. He’s entering his 38th season leading his alma mater, and how well he meshes with the new boss will play an XL role in how long he wants to coach.
And Laycock wants to coach. He’s 69, well-preserved and blessed with good health.
“He’s still got the same approach and fire I saw when I was a freshman (10 years ago),” said offensive coordinator and former Tribe receiver DJ Mangas.
No active Division I head football coach is as tenured as Laycock, and the only DI longevity marks that appear out of reach are Joe Paterno’s 46 seasons at Penn State and Eddie Robinson’s 53 continuous years at Grambling.
Huge is well aware of Laycock’s endurance and success. Her brother Chris played for him at William and Mary from 1981-83, and as a middle-schooler she watched from the stands. Since, she has watched from afar as Laycock compiled 243 career victories and 10 Championship Subdivision playoff bids at a school with unyielding academic standards.
A first-time athletic director trained in various roles at Texas A&M;, Delaware, Georgetown, Wake Forest, Michigan State and Illinois, Huge didn’t worry that such an imposing figure – the Tribe’s football complex is called the Laycock Center – might be less than welcoming of the only female Division I AD in Virginia.
“The first time we met,” she said, “we really hit it off right away. . That didn’t enter my mind, it really did not, and maybe it’s because . I come from a family of four brothers. I’ve been living in what they call a man’s world since birth. .
“I think he saw someone that was a professional and he saw me as, not a peer necessarily, but as a colleague. And that’s how we’ve operated. Yeah, it’s new, we’re making history together, which is pretty cool, here at William and Mary. But I’ve never sensed from Jimmye that my gender has played a role at all in our working relationship.”
Huge is personable, ambitious, energetic and confident. She admires all that William and Mary athletics accomplishes with limited resources – no school has won more Colonial Athletic Association titles – but believes the department can improve competitively and financially.
That vision has been evident in her workings with Laycock.
Huge observed a summer conditioning session and sat in on a two-hour staff recruiting meeting. She addressed the team Sunday night on the eve of training camp and plans to attend practice occasionally, the latter a habit she learned from the dean of ACC athletic directors.
“I can remember (AD) Ron Wellman and (football coach) Jim Grobe standing together at Wake Forest practices,” Huge said. “I want to be the AD that student-athletes are like, ‘How many of her are there? She’s around so much.’”
Huge and Laycock also have huddled about taking the Tribe’s annual road game versus a Bowl Subdivision opponent beyond the Mid-Atlantic to regions that might include a significant alumni contingent and/or academic peer.
This is just me riffing, but Stanford fits that bill, and Huge worked for Cardinal athletic director Bernard Muir when both were at Delaware.
“She’s aggressive about some things like that,” Laycock said. “She’s going after some stuff. . She’s exhibited a great deal of support, a great deal of transparency. The communication has been excellent between her and me in regards to anything and everything. . I really like her understanding of college athletics and football in particular. . She’s been there, done that. She’s been in good programs, she’s seen how things have been done different ways.”
Huge said Laycock has invited her involvement, “and for me it’s important that I know what’s happening, not from a management standpoint, but just from a standpoint that this program recognizes how invested I am personally, and we are as an administration, in this.”
Laycock isn’t surprised. He and Grobe are friends, and Grobe told him how impressive Huge was at Wake Forest.
Now about Laycock’s appreciation of strong women.
His late mother, Ruth, taught at Hamilton Elementary School and Loudoun Valley High in Northern Virginia, and Laycock reveres her. Indeed, he recalls accompanying his mom on 80-mile roundtrips to George Washington University, where she was taking night classes to enhance her teaching credentials.
“She was quite a lady,” he said. “Learned a lot of things from her.”
The memories prompted a smile, and at the risk of playing amateur psychologist, I asked Laycock if that maternal influence informed his acceptance of Huge. He paused.
“It might have,” he said.
“I feel very positive about the direction of the program with Samantha here,” he added a few moments later. “I feel like we’re in good hands. We could have hired somebody who wanted me to change a lot of things that I do. . Then you (would) start to think. But that hasn’t happened. It’s been the other way. She’s working for us. Now it could be a honeymoon. We lose a few ballgames .”
“I think she understands the credibility,” he said, “we’ve built up over time.”
Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com/
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